Billionaire co-founder and chief executive of Louis Vuitton (LVMH), Bernand Arnault, is being investigated over his links to a Russian oligarch.
Prosecutors in Paris are investigating financial transactions involving the French tycoon – the world’s second richest man – and businessman Nikolai Sarkisov.
The inquiry is centred on property purchases in Courchevel, a ski resort in the French Alps known for being a playground for the ultra-rich, the prosecutors said.
Mr Sarkisov acquired property there via a transaction in which Mr Arnault, through one of his companies, had provided a loan, according to French newspaper Le Monde, citing the Tracfin financial intelligence unit.
It said the 55-year-old Russian billionaire had acquired 14 housing units from a single seller in 2018 for €16m (£13.9m) in a complex deal involving companies based in France, Luxembourg and Cyprus.
Tracfin, part of the French justice system focused on combating money laundering, has yet to determine whether any crime had been committed, a source close to the investigation said.
Le Monde cited a person close to Mr Arnault as saying the transaction had been carried out in full respect of French law.
It also said that according to “family lore”, Arnault has a special connection to Courchevel because he learnt to ski there as a child and owns a mansion and a luxury hotel in the area.
Mr Arnault’s spokesperson declined to comment, as did LVMH when contacted by journalists.
Mr Sarkisov’s RESO-Garantia insurance company in Moscow could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mr Arnault’s LVMH group owns handbag brand Louis Vuitton, Moët champagne, Hennessy cognac, the jeweller Tiffany’s and the watchmaker Tag Heuer, among many others.
His fortune is thought to be worth $164bn (£134bn), according to financial experts at Bloomberg.
Arnault, 74, is preparing to hand on his empire, which he founded 35 years ago and grew by acquiring some of the world’s best-known fashion brands and expanding sales to aspiring consumers in Asia, in particular.
In January he appointed his daughter, Delphine, to run the second-biggest brand in LVMH, Christian Dior, in a move that some analysts said set the scene for a family battle with her brother, Antoine, over who would ultimately take over the company.
In 2019, the French tycoon, who is the richest person in Europe and second only to Elon Musk globally, pledged €200m (£173m) for the restoration of Notre Dame after it was devastated by fire.