Le Pays De France - Spotlight shines on Monaco's Russian owner Rybolovlev

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Spotlight shines on Monaco's Russian owner Rybolovlev
Spotlight shines on Monaco's Russian owner Rybolovlev

Spotlight shines on Monaco's Russian owner Rybolovlev

Amid all the focus on Roman Abramovich's stewardship of Chelsea, there is another prominent European football club in the hands of a discreet billionaire Russian owner about whom questions are being asked.

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Dmitry Rybolovlev is the president and majority shareholder of Monaco, the famous club from the glamorous principality having been in his hands since 2011.

He took over when Monaco were struggling in the French second division but his investment rapidly revived their fortunes.

They won Ligue 1 in 2017 and reached the Champions League semi-finals that year.

Rybolovlev has been a resident of the Mediterranean principality for over a decade, but owns two private jets and flies around the world for business and for pleasure.

His last public appearance came on February 23 in the Caribbean island of Antigua where his boat, a lightweight superyacht called Skorpios, won the Royal Ocean Racing Club Caribbean 600 race in the monohull category.

Rybolovlev was on board, far from the football club he owns, and farther from Russia.

He has not been in Russia "for several years", according to his entourage, and certainly not since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Officially, Rybolovlev left Russia in 2010 after being forced to sell his majority stake in potash fertiliser producer Uralkali to close acquaintances of President Vladimir Putin.

While he then quit Russia to make Monaco his base, his ex-wife and children had already been living in Switzerland since the mid-1990s and his parents also live in Europe.

Rigmora Holdings, the company which manages his business interests, was registered in Cyprus in August 2011 and has offices in Cyprus, Switzerland and Greece, but mainly in Monaco.

- Fine art and luxury properties -

Rybolovlev has an estimated fortune of 6 billion dollars. He is an art collector, owns a chalet in the Swiss resort of Gstaad, luxury properties in the United States, and bought the Greek island of Skorpios -- where former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.

While he has always sought to distance himself from those in power in Russia he is named in the Putin Accountability bill, a list of Russian citizens who could face sanctions, which is making its way though the United Sates Congress.

He has also had troubles with the authorities in Monaco related to a legal battle with Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who he accused of charging him inflated prices for dozens of works acquired for more than 2.1 billion dollars.

Rybolovlev, who long hoped to obtain Monegasque nationality but has instead made do with a Cypriot passport, was charged with bribery and influence peddling in the affair.

However, while sanctions rain down on Russian sport, it seems unlikely that Rybolovlev's club -- where Russian international Aleksandr Golovin plays -- will be targeted.

- The Prince's box -

Contacted by AFP, the French league confirmed that no action would be taken against individual players from Russia or Belarus, or against AS Monaco.

"Going and playing in Monaco is not a problem. Just as we must support the Ukrainians and particularly their football players and coaches, so we can't be angry with every person of Russian nationality," said Christophe Galtier, the coach of Monaco's local rivals Nice.

Rybolovlev is not the only Russian businessman involved in sport in Monaco.

Alexey Fedorychev, who also has Hungarian nationality, is the new president of the principality's basketball team, currently playing against the continent's top sides in the Euroleague.

His company, Fedcom, used to sponsor the football club, and he tried in 2002 to become majority shareholder only for Prince Rainier to veto the move.

Neither Fedorychev nor Rybolovlev are the targets of sanctions by the European Union. The current Prince Albert attended the Monaco basketball team's recent victory against Turkish side Fenerbahce with his children.

Fedorychev was alongside them, as was the Ukrainian Serhiy Dyadechko, the club's vice-president.

Prince Albert was also at AS Monaco's last Ligue 1 game, against Reims at the Stade Louis II.

There, in his executive box, was Oleg Petrov, the club's Russian vice-president, as well as Rybolovlev's daughter Ekaterina Rybolovleva and her husband, the Uruguayan Juan Sartori, all three of whom are on the board.