EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was originally published in the Palm Beach Post on February 28, 2011.
There’s a new angle to the battle over the Palm Beach mansion that Donald Trump sold to a Russian fertilizer mogul for a record $95 million.
The Russian, Dmitri Rybolovlev, now disavows any ownership of the former Abe Gosman estate, which was snapped up by Trump for $41.4 million in 2004 and then sold to a Rybolovlev entity four years later, for more than double the price.
The flip was believed to be the most expensive sale of a U.S. single-family home at the time, and in June 2008 Rybolovlev confirmed he was behind the buying entity, County Road Property LLC.
“This acquisition is simply an investment in real estate by one of the companies in which I have an interest,” Rybolovlev said through a spokesman for Uralkali, his fertilizer company. Rybolovlev added that he didn’t plan to live in the United States.
But now things are different in the Rybolovlev household, and Dmitri and his estranged wife, Elena, are enmeshed in a messy divorce in Switzerland. Their chief battle is over their fortune, estimated to be between $6 billion to $12 billion.
Among the jewels of the marriage: The 33,000-square-foot oceanfront Palm Beach mansion, at 515 N. County Road.
In 2009, Elena sued Dmitri in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to protect the estate, claiming Dmitri “has a history of secreting and transferring assets in order to avoid his obligations.” Last year, she filed a lis pendens against the property.
Rybolovlev now says he doesn’t actually own the Palm Beach mansion.
“Mr. Rybolovlev has not purchased or managed any real estate in Florida for investment purposes, either directly or indirectly,” according to a motion recently filed in Elena’ case.
That’s news to Trump. “Somebody paid me $100 million,” Trump said coyly.
Dmitri not only is distancing himself from the Palm Beach property. He’s also distancing himself from this entire case, according to court filings.
A Hawaiian process server says Rybolovlev twice tried to evade the service of legal papers during two dramatic encounters in Maui, according to affidavits filed as part of the lawsuit.
During one attempt last November, process server Christopher Williams said he jumped on the hood of Rybolovlev’s speeding black Cadillac Escalade and slapped the envelope, with the documents, onto the windshield.
During another attempt, Rybolovlev was in a white Cadillac Escalade, “which swerved into the oncoming lane in order to avoid me” and almost drove onto the curb, Williams recounts in the affidavit. Nonetheless, Williams said he “lunged at the car and was able to place a copy of the papers on the windshield.”
A New York lawyer representing Elena said he’s not amused by Dmitri’s tactics.
“I don’t know if he’s trying to be cute,” said David Newman, “but the courts in Switzerland say he has an interest, and they have issued an injunction against him transferring or doing anything with the property — whether it’s in his name or County Road Property.”
Rybolovlev lawyer John Christiansen said the property was purchased by a trust and his client “has no interest” in the property.
A hearing has been set for May 13 on Dmitri’s request to be dismissed from Elena’s lawsuit, which also names County Road Property LLC and various trusts.
Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law. Contact her at email@example.com.