Dmitry Rybolovlev – who really is the AS Monaco owner?

This is a translation from an article by French outlet Mediapart regarding AS Monaco owner Dmitry Rybolovlev.

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This man has ways in with Vladimir Putin, and has also bought a house from Donald Trump, at an inflated price, when the American was in great need of funding. But Football Leaks documents sensationally reveal that Rybolovlev wanted more – he wanted to purchase a country.

At Monaco, Mediapart allege that nothing escapes Mr Rybolovlev, that he rewards ministers, civil servants, writes bits of the law and makes those who help him rich.

In a 7-part investigation, Mediapart intend to reveal how Rybolovlev used his fortune to win the support of the power-brokers in French football.

The 51-year-old former doctor first came onto the French football radar when AS Monaco were in Ligue 2, struggling the French second division and threatened by another relegation to the amateur leagues, on the brink of bankruptcy. He is the undisputed saviour, riding in like a white knight, chequebook in hand, injecting €326m into the club in 2.5 years.

Rybolovlev made his fortune in the raw materials trade in the Perm region of the Urals, where he was born in 1966. In the early 1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union, he joined forces with Evgeni Panteleymonov, a local entrepreneur to enter the chemicals industry.

A few years later, Panteleymonov was assassinated in front of his own house. Rybolovlev notably disagreed with his business partner of future strategy, but to say that both facts here are linked is a stretch.

Russian outlet Novaya Gazeta revealed that in an indictment in the criminal case that followed the murder, Oleg Lomakin, a known Rybolovlev associate arrested in 1996, claimed that the two weapons used in the killing were provided by Rybolovlev himself. Lomakin is then alleged to have given them to the two alleged killers who were part of an organised crime scheme and were not paid the amount that had initially been agreed.

At that time, Rybolovlev lived in Geneva and the following year he was arrested during a return from Switzerland and was remanded in custody for 11 months. But the case rested on the words of Lomakin, who ended up recanting, and due to a lack of evidence and thanks the support of the widow of the victim who claimed that Rybolovlev had always had a good relationship with her husband. The lawsuits were subsequently dropped.

Rybolovlev told Paris Match years later about the incident: “It was very difficult, especially the toil of physical confinement.”

The rest of his life appears to have been less painful, as it has largely consisted of making billions of Euros. At the beginning of the 1990s, according to documents relating to Rybolovlev’s divorce, he invested in Uralkali, a world giant in the field of potash extraction and export (a potassium compound used especially as fertiliser) in exchange for 75% of the company. By 2005, Rybolovlev had made his first billion dollars. Two years later, whilst applying for Swiss naturalisation, the sale of 12.75% of Uralkali shares to the London Stock Exchange made him $1bn.

Then began his big spending, Rybolovlev invested in art, an enormous collection, biotech businesses, investments of $500m into US start-ups and maintained a lavish lifestyle. Rybolovlev made some impressive acquisitions including Will Smith’s Hawaii villa for €15m, the Valfère estate in Saint-Tropez, for €50m. An Airbus A319 – 34 metres long – and the biggest private plane in the market, for €55m and another private jet for €30m.

When in 2011, his eldest daughter Ekatarina, then 22, went to study in the US, Rybolovlev bought her a penthouse in Manhattan worth $88m – the most expensive apartment to have ever been sold in New York. Two years later, Dmitry bought his beloved daughter a Greek island, Skorpios, for €100m, where Jackie Kennedy married the businessman Aristotle Onassis in 1968. Rybolovlev also had not forgotten about his youngest daughter, who was born in 2001, christening a 67-metre long yacht, “My Anna”, which spends most of its time in the Mediterranean, and is estimated to have cost €80m.

In 2008, the first traces of Rybolovlev in Monaco appeared, with two Panamanian companies controlled by the Russian acquiring an apartment in the Principality worth the year before purchase, €100m. He and his wife also bought a mansion in 2008 in front of the Élysée for €19m.

Rybolovlev’s rise has not been linear. In 2006, his life took a dramatic turn when an Uralkali mine in Berezniki collapsed, at the foot of the Ural mountains. The Russian state was forced to open an investigation into the matter twice, the second in 2009, in what was the largest environmental disaster since Chernobyl.

It became clear to Rybolovlev that he would have to quickly leave Russia and in 2010, he sold Uralkali to other businessmen with close links to the Kremlin. In the meantime, in 2008, his wife filed for divorce. 3 years later, whilst the couple’s property spilt was being negotiated in the Swiss courts, Rybolovlev purchased AS Monaco.

Mediapart allege that those who know the billionaire understand that he has never sought to learn another language other than Russian and every morning, he consults a planner which has been diligently put together by his personal assistant, Olga Khorobrykh, who plans every moment of his life. If a trip to the airport is scheduled to take 16 minutes, his driver will do the journey there and back before the intended departure time to check for delays.

The French outlet paints the picture of a man who is incredibly lonely – guests who attended his 46th birthday party in Hawaii in 2012 have it stuck in their minds how Rybolovlev himself deserted the event at 9pm, visibly tired.

From November 9th to the 26th in 2016, for Rybolovlev’s 50th, the billionaire had made the effort to organise a week-long celebration one the Caribbean island of Necker, owned by Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, with concerts and regattas. The guests were warned: “We kindly ask you not post any photos or videos on social networks.”

The program was something else: barbecue with the Buena Vista Social Club orchestra, dinner in front of a Lauryn Hill concert, contemporary dance… Depending on the particular day, the dress code alternated from “barefoot chic” to “dancing vibes” to “relaxed and refined”.

The day after the evening of his actual birthday, a “hangover lunch” was included in the schedule, even though Rybolovlev himself never drinks to excess.

In May 2018, the media were struck by Rybolovlev’s appearance at AMFAR, the Cannes Festival of the American Foundation against AIDS – he generally does not care for conventions and marched down the red carpet with a closed face, sunglasses on, alone, not stopping to smile or allow for photographers to take pictures. He was one of the evening’s largest donors.

On the other hand, his passion for football is not constructed, but genuine. For a 50-something year-old, who sets his life like a Swiss clock, the round ball is never far from his conscience. A business partner of Rybolovlev summed up his adoration for the game as follows: “It is the only thing that he does not control, and that, he likes.”

In 2015, Rybolovlev even hired a football coach to learn how to kick the ball properly. Mediapart allege that this passion is more than just a simple distraction, but also a weapon of influence, life insurance. For a long time, Rybolovlev appears to have been afraid – of others, of everything. He never eats a yogurt that he has not opened himself, only drinks water from a new bottle and gets his bodyguard to sound out his favourite restaurants an hour before he visits them.

Distrust appears to gnaw at him, despite his close relationship with the Kremlin, or at least its Vice President, Yuri Trutnev, who is a special representative of Vladimir Putin in the Russian far east. Both from the Perm region, Rybolovlev and Trutnev have been close for many years, with the former supporting the latter in an election campaign in 2000, which saw Trutnev become governor of the region.

Trutnev, who became the minister of natural resources and ecology in 2004, was often received at Lake Geneva by the Rybolovlev family and is the individual who oversaw the commission into the inquiry of the disaster at the Berezniki mine, which concludes the incident to have been an accident resulting “from an unpredictable geological anomaly.” The reasons for re-opening a second investigation into the matter, three years later, remain unexplained to this day.

Discretion and a cautious nature have been a necessity for Rybolovlev for many years and his calendar is incredibly confidential, his homes are scattered across continents and his businesses are run from some of the most opaque locations on the planet. At the UBS Monaco bank alone, he is the beneficiary of 15 accounts, which are most attached to companies housed in tax havens.

Rybolovlev once thought of permanently settling in Switzerland, where he had been living since the 1990s, and held discussions to buy a football club there too, Servette de Genève – but the divorce proceedings that have since taken place in the country against ex-wife Elena Rybolovleva, which nearly cost him 50% of everything he owned, before a confidential settlement was concluded in 2015, appears to have left an unsavoury taste in the Russian’s mouth for the country.

A strong part of his business is anchored in Cyprus, where Rybolovlev is a shareholder of one of the country’s biggest banks – he acquired Cypriot citizenship in 2010. It is in this country that the company that owns AS Monaco is registered, Monaco Sport Invest, through which Rybolovlev controls 66.65% of the club’s shareholding.

This financial arrangement is not something that AS Monaco leaders want discussed – in September 2016, AS Monaco Vice President Vadim Vasilyev allegedly attempted to remove a slide with a chart that broke down how the capital of AS Monaco was structured from a PowerPoint presentation that he was to give to the National Council of Monaco (parliament) in the days that were to follow.

The official owner of AS Monaco is a woman called Androulla Papadopoulou, according to the MSI’s documentation, at least on paper. Jean-Pierre Gastaud, a lawyer and administrator at AS Monaco with close connections to Palais de Justice told Mediapart: “When Rybolovlev arrived, we asked him for guarantees that he was in fact behind MSI.”

Rybolovlev’s ability to create an element of elusiveness relating to his business dealings is impressive  – it remains unclear who he sold his shares in Uralkali to. In 2008, his 25% stake was transferred to a Panamanian shell company called “Keralt Global”, a firm that appeared in the Panama Papers, the beneficiary of whom is alleged to be Maxim Markevich, a 49-year-old Russian citizen. The only information that Mediapart has been able to gather on this individual is that he owned a company in Monaco that was dissolved in 2017, and has a mailbox address in Switzerland.

Another mysterious transaction took place at a similar time, as Rybolovlev became interested in purchasing a villa in Florida, from a certain Donald Trump. The Russian paid $95m for it, when Trump had purchased it for $41m just four years earlier in 2004. This 131% profit that Trump was able garner from the deal might have been a footnote in the story if Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller was not investigating the Trump presidential campaign for ties to Moscow for having “invested” in the future election of Trump.

Suspicions of proximity between the two camps were reinforced by the fact that during the US presidential campaign, one of Rybolovlev’s planes was sighted several times in Charlotte and Las Vegas, at the exact same time that Trump was campaigning there. A White House spokesperson responded to Mediapart: “It’s ridiculous, no Trump campaigner or Trump family member traveled or met with Mr. Rybolovlev during the campaign or at any other time.”

In 2016, the oligarch’s yacht crossed paths with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner who were on holiday in Croatia. In March 2017, another yacht trip stirred the American press after the publication by the Palm Beach Post of a photo, taken a few days earlier in the British Virgin Islands, showing a Rybolovlev boat alongside that of Rob Mercer’s who was a major financial supporter of the Trump campaign. Surely just another coincidence, no doubt.

Rybolovlev was in fact considering forming a company to buy the New York Red Bulls football club and in return to allow Red Bull to take a minority stake in AS Monaco. The plan was for the new company, Holdco, to own 67% of ASM and 100% of NYRB. Rybolovlev would be in charge, owning 51% of Holdco, with 49% being owned by Red Bull. It is not clear what came of these plans.

Mediapart asked an old member of his entourage why Rybolovlev had decided to purchase AS Monaco: “The political situation is much safer here than in Cyprus. Do you know a state as stable and opaque as Monaco?”

He has undoubtedly made a name for himself, with a brilliant on-pitch project that has made AS Monaco the reference for developing young talent, potentially on a global football scale. Earlier this month, Rybolovlev left a Monegasque courthouse, with a flurry of indictments to his name: “active trading of influence”, “active bribery” and “concealment of violation of the secrecy of an investigation”.

In a statement sent to Mediapart, Rybolovlev ensures that he has never behaved in a reprehensible or inappropriate manner. He remains innocent – he has not at this time been proven guilty.


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