A Fraudster & His Little Castle

    Le Grande Jardin is the only private residence on the Lerins Islands. The place is known to be exceptional in several ways. Firstly because the site is one of the last jewels of the Côte d’Azur, protected from urbanization. The existing property is made up of a vast green space called the King’s Garden where the Governor’s House, the House of Métayers and La Tour stand. The palatial island home boasts 17 bedrooms, a cinema, private helipad and even its own nightclub. It also has several villas, a large swimming pool, gardens, and a small castle on the property. The whole is protected by a surrounding wall built on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu.

    A Fraudster & His Little Castle - famous villas french riviera2 2
    A Fraudster & His Little Castle - famous villas french riviera2 1

    The various buildings were built between the 12th and the 17th century and, until recently, had only historical owners, from the monks of Lérins to the King of France, Louis the 14th, through the Duke of Guise or the Governor of Provence but also the mayor of Marseille, after the Revolution.

    More recently, it was the property of the boss of Presses de la Cité, then, in 1983, it became an asset of the real estate company of Claude Muller, who had not stayed there since 1991.

    In 2008 it was purchased, via a bank loan which he defaulted on, by the Indian business magnate who made his fortune in spirits (United Breweries) and air transport (Kingfisher company), and who is now a cricket and Formula 1 team owner, Vijay Mallya, for around €40 million euros. Since then, Mr. Mallya has become a fugitive and is the subject of an extradition effort by the Indian Government to return him from the UK to face charges of financial crimes in India.

    Mallya, who was known as the “King of Good Times” in India, was arrested in London in April 2017 for defrauding at least 17 Indian banks of billions of dollars, drawing loans that he intended to default on, using his now defunct airline as collateral. He allegedly routed this money into personal assets and to gain full or partial stake in about 40 companies abroad. He is set to face trial for offenses of cheating, criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and abuse of official position by public servants, wherein Mallya faced allegations of conspiring with public servants and dishonestly defrauding banks.

    By September 2015, the 1.3 hectare property on the French island Ile Sainte Marguerite “had fallen into disrepair,” the bank’s lawyer Gideon Shirazi said in court documents. Unsuitable interior designers and builders engaged to carry out repairs at the property left it in a worse state, he said.

    On Mallya’s request to extend the loan, the bank instructed Knight Frank to inspect the property, and the real estate agents found that the value had fallen by €10 million to €30 million. By January 2018, the work on the property was still incomplete, according to the bank.

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    Ten years later after the fraudster bought it, in 2018, the property was once again put on the market, asking €45 million euros. The sale to Ultima Collection (a 5-star hotelier) was finalized on July 1, 2020, in a sweetheart deal that promised to bring jobs and high-end tourism to the area.

    Major renovations will be carried out and they will add a boat, an open-air cinema and a treatment clinic to complete the range of services offered by this new 5-star hotel, which will open in 2021. In addition, the property will host exceptional private events on the sidelines of the most iconic events on the Croisette such as the Cannes Film Festival and Cannes Yachting Festival.

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