Friday, March 7, 2008

Nightmares of balaclava clad Russians might soon be replaced by reality

Rumours are again rife about a chateau for sale in Bordeaux, that some Russians might want to buy, although, one of the three owners, Alain Laguillaumie, is categorical in his denials.

"The chateau is not for sale," he said. "If someone turns up one day with a very large suitcase full of money, you never know, but at the moment, nothing is in the works."

Laguillaumie is on the board of a company called Teleperformance and the vice president of the company, Jacques Berrebi is the second owner, along with Dominique Hebrard, who is based in Bordeaux.

Denial, while annoying for a journalist trying to write a story, is quite the right thing to do. Never mind the fact that reliable property sources say the first round of paper work has been signed. The all important second round of signing has not been finalised and no money, or perhaps not enough money, has changed hands yet.

Chateau sale transactions are notoriously tricky and discreet for that reason. A buyer might run scared, or a seller, once something slips out. The reasons you might fail to buy a chateau, especially if you are in business – Russian or otherwise – are not something you want the whole world to know.

Nor does one want anyone to think a chateau failed to sell, or has been on the market for anything longer than a day. Château Lascombes for example has allegedly been on the market 'for years', 'for three years' or 'for too long' depending on who you are talking to. The fact that it has recently expanded its growing area by renting the next door farm and is producing very good wine – at least the 2004 I tasted recently was very good – always comes second.

And anyway, I would far prefer to write a story about Russians having bought a chateau in Bordeaux, rather than that they might.

They have after all been trying for ages – not all of them obviously, but some. And no luck so far. The reasons for this range from something along the lines of a 'swart gevaar' – the paranoid fear of black people that gripped many white South African's just before the end of Apartheid – to basic cultural difference in attitudes to business and difficulty with getting money from Russia – and other countries – declared OK for use in France.

Bordeaux folklore currently comprises stories of balaclava covered Russians, descending from limos with blacked out windows, accompanied by translators in short skirts with legs up to here, to conduct drunken meetings with sober chateaux owners. Suitcases of money have not been mentioned but I am sure they must be in the limo.

Last September I wrote an article about Russians trying and failing to buy, but it ended with two reliable bankers, from UBS and Transactions R, the property of Rothschild Bank, saying they were in no doubt that a Russian client would buy 'in a year or two'.

"Of course, they are not stupid, they are realising how they have to do it," said Frederic Dubois of Lazard Bank's Bordeaux office last September. "They need to arrive with someone in the Bordeaux world, who can manage the codes," he said.

"Today some of them are breaking their teeth, arriving all tanks and trumpets blaring. But the ones who are determined, and who can crack the code will succeed," he said, so I am sure they will get here soon. Personally I can't wait.

For the moment though, no wonder so many of them seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in London with the apparently less coded – or differently coded, shall we say – English. Those that are not dead that is.

Just think of the story I heard a while ago about a friend of a friend who was explaining to her daughter, the day before the start of 'big school', that not everyone would be quite like her. Meaning not everyone would have two ponies, a house in London and one in the country, a driver, etc. etc.

Well, the little girl, all of ten or eleven, went off to school and came home in agreement. "You are right mummy," she said, "They are not all like me. I sit beside a Russian girl and SHE comes to school in a helicopter." So there.

Just think how that would go down with the Bordelaise, who will probably vote for Juppe as mayor again mainly because he is the conservative local politician who has managed to totally distance himself, despite being in the same party, from the bling bling of Sarkozy.

You see how I can't wait.

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