When a fraudster has had run-ins with the law in at leats three European countries as well as the US, the Middle East seems to offer a fresh new start. Eric Arnoux, the convicted French property developer with more than 30 bankruptcies across Europe and a 150-page file of allegations against him in a Swiss court, has set his eyes on the United Arab Emirates. Having rebranded himself as an “interior designer”, the French carpenter will hope the internet somehow doesn’t reach the wealthy state and show his abysmal track record.
Contrary to a self-promotional piece in Arab News, Eric Arnoux’s property developments in France and Switzerland have been marred by bankruptcies and indefinite delays in completion. In his native country, France, he developed chalets in the ski resort of Megève, for which he scammed people out of millions of euros only to declare his network of companies bankrupt after asset stripping them. Arnoux never paid his builders and was also accused of employing illegal immigrants at the site. He defrauded people out of 8-10m euros each.
After a lawyer told a national newspaper that “nobody has degraded our institutions as much as he has”, the 51-year-old fled to Switzerland in 2000 and settled in Geneva, before again fleeing Switzerland to London, with the help of British law firm Mcgrath Elliot Limited. Arnoux continued his strategy of raising funds by charming people and through complex property investment vehicles, often registered in Luxembourg or Malta, from which he would withdraw all deposits in order to fund his own luxury lifestyle. In Geneva, he has regularly been spotted in Ferraris, driving to the town’s famously expensive restaurants. He also used to own at least one luxury yacht, which sails under Maltese flag.
It was a 350m Euros development in the Swiss Alps, in the resort town of Grimentz, that started Arnoux’s downfall. Together with his dubious Belgian business partner Thierry Dubuisson he proposed a major luxury complex, including chalets for private investors and a spa hotel, for the small town, which the local authority supported and co-funded. But no sooner had the building works begun in 2014, did Arnoux pull his usual stunts. He hid behind a web of companies that spanned Switzerland, Luxembourg and France, but when these companies and funds folded, the building works stopped. Only in this case did he mess with the wrong crowd: the council of Grimentz sued him.
This triggered an avalanche of investigations. Geneva’s public prosecutor Josepha Wohnrau compiled a 150-page file of charges against Arnoux, including fraudulent bankruptcy, tax fraud and even intimidation.In total, Arnoux owes four Swiss banks, including BNP Paribas Switzerland and J Safra Sarasin, a total of 50m Euros and has caused damage to business partners over his 25-year-career of more than 200m euros. The accumulation of charges towards Arnoux in Switzerland pushed him to move to London, where he set up another base ready to flee to. However, the Frenchman was arrested at Geneva airport by heavily armed Swiss police as he travelled back to Geneva from the UK.. Arnoux spent several months in jail. He was released on bail, having raised hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs despite declaring himself insolvent. The bail money was put up by his London lawyers at Mcgrath Elliot Limited, according to Swiss newspapers, which hints as to where he is hiding his personal wealth.
Arnoux is also wanted in the US, after he failed to repay a loan for a luxury development in Florida.
Now, in the UAE, he is trying to reinvent himself as an interior designer. The websites for his properties do show a taste for the kind of flash luxury that might play well in the region, but most are computer-generated images – few of Arnoux’s developments were actually ever finished.
Instead, he left with the money in the hope that he could intimate his contractors into keeping quiet. At his current rate, Eric Arnoux may soon run out of countries to flee to.