Captain Alexis Rodriguez dips the nose of his £4m Monacair Eurocopter 130, then banks hard right, and that’s when you see it. Château Diter is one of the most extravagant homes in the world’s most extravagant property market — the French Riviera. You’ll have seen the £48m Tuscan-style mansion, and probably admired its frescoes and three swimming pools, if you’ve watched the hit Sky TV show Riviera. It’s the fictional family home of the billionaire Clios family.
Prosecutor Pierre-Jean Gaury reportedly described the palace as a “pharaonic project, delusional, totally illegal”. The wrecking ball is swinging. Can Diter stop it and salvage his children’s inheritance? Or will he lose everything? It’s a cliffhanger worthy of the TV series.
Once you’ve decided to buy, that’s when things can get murky. Not every investor on the Riviera can demonstrate how he or she made their fortune. That makes it hard to get a mortgage. Mortgage? For the super-rich? Oh, yes. Wealth tax in France is levied on any property worth more than €1.3m net, so the trick is to borrow heavily to reduce — quite legally — any tax liability.
Step in Hugh Wade-Jones, of the global mortgage broker Enness. He specialises in arranging finance for people he describes as “secretive individuals with complex requirements”. Looking out over the sparkling white caps of the Med, which are almost as bright as his teeth, he recalls: “I once had a call to ask if I could arrange a €10m mortgage for someone whose identity I couldn’t know!” He pulled it off after winning the applicant’s trust and finding out his name.
When everything is sorted out, buying is fraught. French lawyers — notaires — require multiple signatures, and electronic ones on important documents won’t do. Wade-Jones tells me of one Saudi client who needed personally to sign and return a document to close a deal. “So he signed the single sheet and sent it over on his private jet from Riyadh.”