France Investigation

When AS Monaco faced a 'neutron bomb' of fraud allegations

In December 2011, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, with an estimated wealth of about 6.8 billion dollars from his interests in potassium fertiliser production, bought a two-thirds share in AS Monaco, the football club based in the tiny French-controlled Riviera principality of Monte Carlo, where he resides. Mediapart can reveal that his grand ambitions for the club, which plays in France’s top-flight division, Ligue 1, saw him attempt to hide his massive and illegal funding of the team behind a supposed marketing contract involving an offshore structure of companies in the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong. But his chosen partner in the scheme finally pulled out, threatening a “neutron bomb” of revelations, while the governing body of European association football, UEFA, was to turn a blind eye to the deal.     

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It was the most impressive comeback in the history of French football. When Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev bought two-thirds of the shares in AS Monaco from the Riviera principality’s rulers in December 2011, the club was 18th in the French second division, Ligue 2, and in dire financial straits. Two and a half years later, the club had reached the top-flight Ligue 1, where it finished second at the end of the 2013-2014 season and as a result qualified for the Champions League.

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