Paris, October 2023 – One of France’s wealthiest men, the influential owner of LVMH luxury goods conglomerate Bernard Arnault, is reportedly under scrutiny in France over suspicions of money laundering. This investigation, revealed by Le Monde and confirmed by the Paris prosecutor’s office, is described as “preliminary,” signifying that Arnault has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing.
The inquiry, which began in 2022, is linked to real estate transactions allegedly orchestrated by Russian oligarch Nikolai Sarkisov, a figure not subject to European sanctions post-Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine but listed by Ukraine for his close connections with the Kremlin.
The investigation focuses on high-end properties in the upscale French ski resort of Courchevel, where Arnault possesses two hotels, including Le Cheval Blanc. Sarkisov purportedly acquired 17 units in a building adjacent to Arnault’s hotel in 2018 for €18.3 million. Notably, these transactions were conducted under the name of the company La Flèche. However, Tracfin, the Ministry of Finance’s anti-money laundering service, traced a convoluted financial route leading to a Cyprus-based firm, Arrowband, solely owned by Sarkisov.
Tracfin’s investigation reveals that the entire €18.3 million operation was financed by Métropole 1850, a subsidiary of Bernard Arnault’s private holdings. Strikingly, a few months later, Métropole 1850 allegedly acquired the same company from Sarkisov for a significantly lower sum of €1.8 million. Tracfin’s inquiry aims to unravel the vast price gap between these transactions, suggesting that Sarkisov acted as a front to conceal Arnault’s involvement.
Arnault’s legal representative, Jacqueline Laffont, vehemently denied wrongdoing, asserting the transaction’s legitimacy. She labelled media allegations as “absurd,” questioning the notion that Arnault, a titan in the business world, would resort to money laundering for a hotel extension.
Meanwhile, a source close to Sarkisov acknowledged the deal to Le Monde but emphasized the risks borne by his real estate firm, which gradually acquired the units before the resale. This meticulous approach, the source claimed, was essential for the deal’s success, emphasising that any refusal from the owners could have jeopardised the entire operation.
This investigation comes amidst renewed scrutiny on Russian-owned properties in France, with Tracfin delving deeper into Sarkisov’s financial affairs. Additionally, a separate inquiry has been launched concerning a €3 million consultant contract signed in 2019 between Sarkisov and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, exploring potential bribery and criminal laundering allegations.
As both Arnault and Sarkisov maintain their innocence, the investigation promises to shed light on the complex financial transactions that have thrust these high-profile individuals into the spotlight of legal scrutiny.
Bernard Arnault is also one of the biggest collectors of Contemporary art in Europe. In addition, the Open Space programme, initiated in 2018, invites young national and international artists to create a site-specific piece for the Fondation in response to the Frank Gehry building which houses much of his collection.