The world’s “most expensive”—and perhaps nastiest—divorce is over.
T&C can exclusively reveal that Dimitry Rybolovlev, the 49-year-old Russian oligarch who made a $9 billion fortune in the fertilizer business, has, after seven long years involving private investigators, battles over art, multi-million dollar properties—and even an arrest!—been settled “amicably” with all lawsuits dropped. The terms have not been released, but it’s worth mentioning that at one point a Swiss Judge wanted to award Elena Rybolovleva half his fortune, which is what makes this so costly.
That a settlement was coming was revealed exclusively to me in September, during a three-hour interview with the oligarch (in the presence of a translator). Rybolovlev is a taciturn man who rarely gives interviews. But we met at his home in Monaco, the famous triplex penthouse apartment, La Belle Epoque, possibly the world’s most expensive apartment and which also happens to be the infamous crime scene where the late banker Edmond Safra died, locked in a bathroom in 1999. (Rybolovlev, who was not without a sense of humor, told me he had had his priest sprinkle holy water everywhere to get rid of the bad xiu xiu).
We were there to discuss his role at the center of an alleged billion-dollar art fraud, which has recently been water-cooler talk in galleries and auction houses, afraid of what his case might reveal about their shadowy, unregulated industry. Dressed in black velvet slippers, charcoal pants and a blue and white shirt, Rybolovlev explained how the two stories were entwined, since the people currently facing criminal lawsuits accusing them of illegally enriching themselves as they bought bought art on behalf of his trusts, apparently believed, according to the oligarch, that their greatest ally was his divorce. He says they thought he would stay quiet about the art collection because he wouldn’t want Elena to know what was in it and come after it. “They were wrong. They underestimated me,” he’d later say.
In fact, he said, talking of the divorce, he never really wanted to get divorced at all. (Then again, one must remember he had not had a prenuptial agreement, so financially he had good reason not to.) He had met Elena (whose lawyers did not return calls) back when he was a student cardiologist, before he went into finance and the fertilizer industry and made his fortune. It was never an ordinary marriage with ordinary stresses. In the mid-1990s Russia was in political turmoil post-Perestroika. The success of his fertilizer company, Uralkali, meant he was a target of the government. He faced death threats and moved Elena to Geneva along with the couple’s eldest daughter Ekaterina; Dmitry subsequently spent almost a year in jail in Russia, allegedly for ordering a hit of one of his business partners. (He would be cleared … but neighbors in Geneva remember Elena having to tell them, in faltering beginner’s French: “He’s in prison for alleged murder.”)
It couldn’t have been easy. Then he got out and commuted between Russia and Geneva. He and Elena had another daughter, Anna, in 2001. Who and what pushed Elena to file for divorce in 2008? For that you’ll need to read my upcoming piece in the December/January issue T&C. She’d accuse him of hiding assets—properties all around the world in trusts—and the case went in and out of courts. Their fight climaxed in a terrible moment last year when Elena was arrested in Cyprus where Dimitry owns a stake in the country’s biggest bank; supposedly she’d stolen a $28 million ring (she would prove he’d given it to her.) It’s hard to think of a divorce where the friction is of a comparable scale. There are those who call this “the Russian way of doing things…”
Yet when I met with Rybolovlev his face softened as he mentioned Elena. He brought up what they agree on; not what they don’t. He told me they were about to settle, though right to the end, sources close to it confided it was touch and go: “A divorce like this is a bit like and M&A deal; it’s not done until it’s done.”
So now it’s over, at least on paper. Anyone who’s been divorced knows that a mix of emotions lingers: relief, bitter-sweet sadness, and also optimism. But I also happen to know the story isn’t over yet for this complicated, reluctantly high-profile family. More news to come.
FOR A LOOK AT WHAT THE WORLD”S MOST EXPENSIVE DIVORCE LOOKS LIKE, SEE HERE JUST SOME OF THE ASSETS BEING FOUGHT OVER:
$88 Million – 15 Central Park West apartment, NYC
$95 Million – Palm Beach mansion bought from Donald Trump, Maison de l’Amitié
$150 Million – Two Greek islands that once belonged to Athina Onassis
$111 Million – “My Anna” yacht
$20 Million – Kauai, Hawaii house purchased from Will Smith
$95 Million – Airbus A319 Jet
$480-800 Million – Art and furniture collection
$138 Million – Gstaad property
$50 Million – Moscow real estate holdings
$24 Million – Paris property