Tuesday 6 March 2018 (16h48) :
Eric Arnoux, the dark horse of property development

By : Roger Moses

When searching for home décor inspiration online, you risk ending in webpages created by the notorious French businessman Eric Arnoux. Over the years, the real-estate developer has boasted about innovative architecture, sleek interiors and luxurious creations.

It is true that from his humble beginnings as a carpenter, Arnoux has learned the ins and outs of how to approach and sell mega-projects to banks and wealthy individuals.As the media revealed, these projects turned out to be money-losing empty-shells.

More recently, the French-man was even arrested by Swiss police at his arrival in Geneva and spent several months in jail, before being blacklisted by World-Check, the compliance watchdog used by all banks and financial institutions. Why? A massive debt racked up during his career, ranging anywhere from 200 million to 300 million Euros.

Eric Arnoux’s trail of deception started in the 1990’s, when he conned his own friends into funding the development of chalets in the upmarket ski resort of Megève, France. He eventually raided the cash reserves of the development companies he had created, declaring them bankrupt in order to fund his own personal lavish lifestyle, and fleeing to neighbouring Switzerland.

Once in Geneva, Arnoux settled into a luxurious way of life with a villa overlooking the lake, a garage full of Ferraris and a yacht, registered in the notorious tax haven, Malta. He then attempted to develop high-end condominiums in Miami, Florida, where he was already the proud owner of an eye-catching penthouse.

Seeking another massive pay cheque, Eric Arnoux then managed to convince the Swiss authorities to invest in a colossal new-build in Grimentz, comprising in a luxury hotel, and multiple individual chalets. However a year after the building commenced, builders didn’t get paid, funds dried up, and the work stopped. Arnoux blamed a complex structure of companies spanning from Switzerland, Luxembourg and France, all of which created by himself, making it nearly impossible to trace the money in the intricate web.

Arnoux was finally arrested upon his arrival at Geneva airport in March 2017, after having triggered an avalanche of investigations. Geneva’s public prosecutor Josepha Wohnrau compiled a 150-page report against Arnoux, including fraudulent bankruptcy, tax fraud and even intimidation. In total, the document shows Arnoux owes a total of 56 million Swiss Francs to four Swiss banks, including BNP Paribas Switzerland and J Safra Sarasin, and has caused damage to business partners over his 25-year-career worth over 200 million Euros. However, he was released on bail, having raised hundreds of thousands of Swiss Francs despite declaring himself insolvent. His London lawyers, according to newspaper Le Temps, put up the bail money, which hints as to where he is hiding his personal wealth.

Since then, Arnoux has relocated to Dubai, where he continues to work in property development, earning himself new clients eager to benefit from his supposed "eye for aesthetics". Until now, he has managed to keep his deceiving past a secret in the Emirates, even gaining praises from local newspapers, as he is now known as the man building typical Swiss chalets… in the desert.

It is only a matter of time before the real-estate developer is forced to flee again, his greed for wealth and luxury won’t stay dormant for long.

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