By Gaspard Sebag
Shortly after Roman Abramovich bought the Château de la Croë property about a decade ago on the exclusive Cap d’Antibes peninsula in the south of France, the taxman came knocking.
The Russian billionaire, French authorities said, had undervalued the holiday home and hadn’t paid enough wealth tax in 2006 and 2007. The tax agency valued the property at about €41,000 per square metre by comparing it to asset sales of similar calibre in the vicinity around that time. Since then, Mr Abramovich has been trying various ways to get out of paying the €1.2 million bill presented by authorities. His latest endeavour, which included a complaint that the new tax paperwork wasn’t delivered to him personally, was rejected last month by France’s top court.
Built in the late 1920s for a newspaper magnate on a thin stretch of land now identified as Billionaire’s Bay, the chateau is known for having been the residence of several crowned heads. King Edward VIII moved in just after he controversially abdicated in 1937 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. King Leopold III of Belgium, the last Queen of Italy, and Farouk I of Egypt, also lived there. The mansion was then owned in the 1950s by billionaire Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and later by his lifelong rival Stavros Niarchos. A fire destroyed part of the property in the 1970s and it remained abandoned for decades until Abramovich’s acquisition. Mr Abramovich spokesman John Mann declined to comment on the issue.
In his lawsuits, the Russian argued that the French tax administration largely overvalued the property’s price by comparing it to luxury houses in much more expensive locations. The judges at the Cour de Cassation were unfazed. They ruled that the tax agency was correct in comparing the Château de la Croë to other properties sold around the time in the areas of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cap d’Ail, and Antibes. Those similar estates included Villa Fiorentina, once occupied over the years by the Kennedys, Elizabeth Taylor, and Greta Garbo. In late 2004, it sold for over €73m — inclusive of Vat.
Mr Abramovich’s holiday home sits isolated at the tip of the Cap d’Antibe with a panoramic sea view. The property spans more than 75,000 sq m (807,000 sq ft) with a living area ofmore than 2,400 sq m in the chateau and a guest pavilion.
A year earlier, the Paris court of appeal had already dismissed similar arguments put forward by Mr Abramovich by citing an architect expertise report from 2005 that highlighted the extraordinary nature of his chateau.