Billionaire art collector and French businessman Bernard Arnault is reportedly under investigation for financial transactions in 2018 with a Russian insurance businessman, Nikolai Sarkisov.
Last week, the French newspaper Le Monde reported that Sarkisov acquired over a dozen properties in Courchevel, a French ski resort, backed by a loan from a company owned by Arnault.
The Paris Prosecutor’s office confirmed on Friday that a preliminary investigation had been initiated in 2022, and that a report had been brought to its attention from the French Tracfin financial intelligence unit relating to the Alpine real estate purchase by Sarkisov to determine whether it could be considered money laundering.
However, in that the investigation is preliminary, that means Arnault has not been accused of any wrongdoing and is not suspected of having committed money laundering.
Arnault, CEO and chairman of LVMH, the largest luxury goods company in the world, has denied the wrongdoing. Jacqueline Lafont, Arnault’s attorney, said the allegations were “absurd and unfounded” and that a preliminary investigation does not mean that a crime has been committed.
“The transaction that allowed for the expansion of the Hotel Cheval Blanc in Courchevel is perfectly known and was conducted in accordance with the law and with legal support,” Lafont said in an emailed statement reported by CNBC. “The investigation, seemingly under way, will demonstrate these facts.”
“Furthermore, who could seriously imagine that Bernard Arnault, who has developed over the past 40 years the leading French and European company, would pursue money laundering to expand a hotel? I believe the senseless nature of these allegations will be recognized by all.”
Arnault has long been a respected art collector. He and his wife Hélène are among ARTnews's Top 200 Collectors. In 2014, his Fondation Louis Vuitton launched a Frank Gehry-designed museum, which has held many noteworthy exhibitions including the blockbuster Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective in 2018. Arnault has also tapped artists for design collaborations, many of which, as with Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, have become iconic.