By Anne Michel and Alexander Abdelilah
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Investigation This luxurious residence in Cannes has passed through the hands of many owners since it was built in 1928. Many of them, billionaires from all over the world with often troubled backgrounds, have had trouble with the law.
“Is this the evening with the actor from the movie ‘Elvis’?” asks the driver, in his white van. In front of the gate bristling with surveillance cameras, a dozen delivery men are already waiting their turn, under a blazing sun. They barely allow themselves to be distracted by the ballet of black sedans, from which descend, with the haughty air of those who are in it, boys in Dior caps and girls in stiletto heels. “You haven’t seen Nina Dobrev?, inquires, feverishly, a young “stalker” (star tracker), in search of the heroine of the Vampire Diaries series. She is in Cannes for the Festival. She sleeps here for sure, she posted pictures on Insta, I checked, it’s the same view. »
Cannes, May 25, at the Villa Bagatelle. Craftsmen deliver part of the decor for an evening organized on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival. LAURENT CARRÉ FOR “THE WORLD”
On the heights of Cannes, on these days of the Festival, in the aptly named district of California, the Villa Bagatelle serves as the setting for one of those crazy evenings which also make its reputation. Nobody here knows the story of this “exceptional residence”, as the real estate agencies write, built on a promontory planted with palm trees and rare species, with a view overlooking the bay and the Lérins islands. No one knows the name of the owner either. “Someone super rich, he made a fortune in online poker, I think,” suggests a young man, before the head of security orders him to be quiet.
“3 million Poincaré francs”
And yet, Bagatelle, which would be worth more than 20 million euros, is no ordinary villa. Since its construction in 1928, it has not known a moment of respite. In a few decades, it has passed into the hands of billionaires from all over the world, all of whom have had a run-in with the law: an Algerian golden-boy, Indian magnates, Russian oligarchs… Its high walls hide a troubled history. and chaotic, between pranks and crashes. To the point that, mischievously, some say it is stricken with a curse. In fact, the fate of Bagatelle alone says a lot about how the money, coming from France, then from the Gulf, from Russia and elsewhere, trickled down the French Riviera. A story that has remained secret until now.
A view of the park and the villa Bagatelle, in Cannes, May 25, 2022. LAURENT CARRÉ FOR “THE WORLD”
It all started at the end of the 1920s. The Côte d’Azur, a paradise with the scent of pines and orange blossoms, attracted all that the world had of writers and artists: Pablo Picasso, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Gabrielle Chanel… Charmed, Duke Auguste-Armand de La Force, also a member of the French Academy, built a “magnificent Provençal Louis XVI house”, with “twelve master bedrooms and eight servants’ bedrooms”, “first-rate decoration” and “concierge house”, for “3 million Poincaré francs”, can we read in the archives of Cannes. He sold it fairly quickly and, around 1945, a certain “Mr. Hefty” became its mysterious owner.
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