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Palm Beach divorce focuses on sex, lies … and a mansion


EDITOR’S NOTE: This stroy was published in the Palm Beach Post on June 29, 2009.

From Russia, with love?

Not on the shores of Palm Beach.

A divorce battle between Russian billionaire fertilizer mogul Dmitri Rybolovlev and his wife has washed up on the island.

The wife, Elena Rybolovlev, is flinging allegations of infidelity. She’s also fighting to seize 50 percent of the couple’s marital assets, which she estimates to be worth between $6 billion and $12 billion.

Among the assets: the $95 million Palm Beach mansion Dmitri Rybolovlev purchased from real estate mogul Donald Trump in 2008.

The deal was considered the nation’s most expensive sale of a U.S. single-family home. And soon it could turn into the most expensive U.S. house to be fought over in divorce court.

In December, Elena filed for divorce from Dmitri. The same month, she filed a lis pendens on the 33,000-square-foot Palm Beach property, the estate of former health care magnate Abe Gosman. A lis pendens is a pending suit in which a court acquires jurisdiction over property.

In legal documents, Elena claims she made the move because her husband “has a history of secreting and transferring assets in order to avoid his obligations.”

The lis pendens was temporarily removed pending the outcome of a Swiss court, which is set to rule on the issue of how to divide the couple’s assets, said Al LaSorte, a West Palm Beach attorney for Elena. But the lis pendens could go back on the house, depending on how the court rules.

Robert Brody, an attorney for Dmitri’s County Road Property LLC, which bought the Trump house, declined to comment.

Rybolovlev is one of the new breed of young oligarchs that has dominated Russia’s economy in recent years. The former medical student is the chairman of Uralkali, a fertilizer company. Forbes has ranked him No. 59 on a list of the world’s billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $12.8 billion.

In July 2008, through County Road Property, Rybolovlev paid $95 million cash for the Trump property. Trump had bought the home on 515 N. County Road for $41.35 million in 2004. Rybolovlev closed the deal at $5 million below Trump’s $100 million asking price.

At the time, Rybolovlev said he purchased the mansion as an investment. And it seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, how can you go wrong with oceanfront property on Palm Beach?

But what a difference a year makes. Numerous Russian oligarchs have seen their fortunes diminished in the financial turmoil engulfing the world economy, and Rybolovlev is no exception. Now his personal life has taken a turn for the worse, too. In December, Elena filed for divorce in Switzerland. The couple moved there in 1995 for security reasons, according to the lawsuit.

In the divorce filing, Elena says she is fed up with Dmitri’s fondness for other ladies. A yacht cruise with several young women, and later a mistress, were among the deal breakers in the marriage, according to the complaint. Elena claims that some of the “young conquests were shared with his friends, and other oligarchs.”

She wants half of the assets, if she can find them. An art and furniture collection, worth about $670 million, has been moved out of her reach to London and Singapore, she complains in legal documents. And her attempts to claim half of the Palm Beach house in a Palm Beach County Circuit Court lawsuit are being made because Dmitri hasn’t produced documents showing his ownership in various properties, according to legal documents.

Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law. For more of her coverage, read The Source on Sundays at PalmBeachPost.com/business. Contact her at alexandra_clough@pbpost.com.



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