Russian Playboy Mikhail Prokhorov Loses $53M Mansion Deposit

Mikhail Prokhorov's next purchase is the New Jersey Nets basketball team.

ByABC News
March 2, 2010, 8:08 AM

MOSCOW March 2, 2010— -- Anywhere in the world, $53 million is considered a hefty sum for a house. For one of Russia's most prominent oligarchs that's just a 10 percent deposit, and he just lost it.

A French court ruled Monday that nickel tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov would not get back the deposit he put down on a sprawling, $530 million villa on the French Riviera. He backed out of the purchase in 2008 as the global financial crisis gathered steam.

"We have lost," Prokhorov's lawyer Jean-Pierre Gastaud said after the court in the southern city of Nice made its decision. Gastaud said he would urge his client to appeal.

Prokhorov, who is 44 and a billionaire many times over, is still shopping. An avid 6'9" tall basketball fan, he is awaiting approval by the NBA for his purchase of a controlling interest in the New Jersey Nets.

The mansion at the center of the lawsuit is a spectacular 20-acre spread between Nice and Monaco looking out over the Mediterranean. Fifty gardeners are reportedly needed to tend to the property's manicured gardens and hundreds of lemon, cypress and olive trees.

Its price tag reportedly broke the record for the most expensive ever, appropriate for a manse named Villa Leopolda after the man who built it, King Leopold II of Belgium.

Click here for a slideshow on the fabulous grounds of Villa Leopolda

It is now owned by Lily Safra, the wife of banker Edmond Safra who was murdered in 1999 after his nurse set fire to his Monaco apartment. The Safras are said to have entertained Ronald Reagan and Frank Sinatra at the estate which was also once owned by Fiat founder Gianni Agnelli.

Prokhorov had made repeated attempts to buy for Villa Leopolda from Safra before she finally accepted the half-a-billion dollar offer. On Monday, Safra announced that she would donate Prokhorov's deposit to 10 charities around the world.

"The law has been applied and justice has prevailed," she said in a statement.

A representative for the Russian oligarch declined a request to comment from ABC News, saying legal proceedings are still ongoing.

Prokhorov is Russia's second richest man with an estimated wealth of $17.85 billion, according to Finans magazine's annual list of the richest Russians released in February. He lost his 2009 top spot to steel magnate Vladimir Lisin, despite watching his assets grow over $3.7 billion in the past year.

Before this year, the crisis is believed to have halved the 44 year-old playboy's fortune, making him relatively unscathed compared to some of his fellow oligarchs. The loss of his billions appeared not to faze him.

"What I like for Russia is that we have such extremes, I like this," Prokhorov told the BBC last summer. "Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not very good. If you can live in these extremes, it's like fresh water all the time."

Videos around the web show the athletic Prokhorov enjoying the fruits of his success, doing flips on jet skis, back country skiing in the winter.