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By John Helmer, Moscow

After the episode of the Louis Vuitton fountain-pen given in San Francisco in friendship, not favour, Dmitry Rybolovlev (left) has redirected his generosity to another seaport, this time Monaco. There the welcome appears to have been decidedly warmer than he got in California, where Rybolovlev said he was thinking of investing ; or in Florida, where he’s said he was thinking of living. The weather is also warmer in Monaco than in Geneva, where there has been icy wind blowing at Rybolovlev from the cantonal divorce court, which has issued a freeze order over Rybolovlev’s worldwide assets , and a contempt of court threat against Swiss reporters for reporting the claims and counter-claims, and legal manoeuvering.

In a scoop reported this morning in Nice Matin, a southern French newspaper, by Julien Crevelier, the headline question is: Who is Dmitry Rybolovlev? The reason for asking that, as the report discloses, is that the little principality’s famous but faulty football team, AS Monaco, is to be sold to Rybolovlev by an arrangement between him and Bert Grimaldi, the ruler of Monaco, Prince Albert II (image, right). The two men are reported by Nice Matin to have met on December 5, and the prince later said: “I have no scoop for you at the moment, but we are working on the future of this team.”

One question leads to another – does the writ of the Geneva court extend to Monaco in such a way as to put the ball Dmitry and Albert are passing between themselves, offside?

Relatively more transparent is the value of the Monaco football club, which is currently holding the wooden-spoon at 20th place on the 20-team ladder of the French second league at the 16th week mark.

This isn’t the first Russian attempt this year to save ASM, as the Monaco club is also known for short. In March the club disclosed that Denis Sukhotin of Moscow, owner of FxPro, a London and Cyprus-based brokerage for trading currency futures and derivatives, would become one of the club’s sponsors for next season. FxPro also has sales offices in Nice and Moscow.

According to the Monaco FC website, the FxPro name is to appear on its shirts and other playing gear. The idea of paying for this, according to Sukhotin, is to develop ”the strength of our brand through sponsorship. We are delighted to be partnered with such a prestigious and high profile team in AS Monaco FC, one that shares our passion for excellence and success. FxPro is expanding its profile in key markets so the choice of a popular and historic team, in one of the world’s wealthiest locales is a natural fit for the future ambitions of the business.”

Sukhotin was asked if he is in association with Rybolovlev, and how much money the two of them plan to spend on the football club. He responded through a spokesman in London that the sponsorship deal with Monaco initially fell through, but has since been revived in a smaller, lower-priced form. About Rybolovlev Sukhotin said nothing.

Here is a translation from the French of today’s Nice Matin news story by Julien Crevelier.

For investing in the club, the very discreet Dmitry Rybolovlev has been introduced in the Principality [of Monaco] since several years. From where is he coming ? What is he doing ? Here the elements of reply…

Often described as one of the most discreet Russian oligarchs, Dmitry Rybolovlev, 45 years old, has become in recent days the man whose name is on everyone’s lips. Certainly that’s because a part of the future of the AS Monaco, wounded beast, could soon be concentrated between his hands. Is Rybolovlev the future boss of the club? If everything is on the right track, the deal could be put together after the return of the Prince from his trip to South Africa, where he participated in the UN conference on climate warming.

Difficult to know if Rybolovlev has the fibre of an environmentalist. One thing is sure — the man who comes in from the cold, born in Perm at the foot of the Ural Mountains, made his fortune in fertilizers at the Uralkali works, a company specializing in potash deposits.

That enabled him to enter in 2007 the circle of the Forbes Magazine’s one hundred biggest fortunes in the world, which he has yet to leave. Last year, Rybolovlev sold out of the company against a very big cheque. Quite an outcome for this man with an uncommon destiny, who spent some months in prison in 1996. The Russian Itar-Tass news agency reports that he has been accused of involvement in the murder of an industrialist. He was later acquitted.

A fortune estimated at 7.1 billion euro

A collector of Old Master canvasses, this father of two children, currently in the middle of a divorce making a big noise in Geneva, is at the head of a colossal fortune and of assets distributed in Switzerland, in the United States or in Cyprus. But also in Monaco where he was introduced some years ago by a person very well established in the Principality, notably the administrator of the SBM [the state-owned casino and hotel operator, Société des Bains de Mer]. In 2010, the former ‘tsar of potash’ acquired on a long-term lease and in the name of his daughter, ‘the most expensive flat in the world’, formerly occupied by Edmund Safra, on Ostende Avenue; it belongs to the state.

For history in brief, it is said that he has a staff allowing him, whenever he calls, to make financial operations on the market floor of a bank.

A resident of Monaco, Rybolovlev appears every so often in the Principality, as at the Red Cross Ball this summer (see picture, left). He has also financed a dance show in tribute to the German dancer and choreographer, Pina Bausch, at the end of 2010.

This time, it is in AS Monaco, one of the jewels of the country, that he could well invest part of his €7 billion fortune. The club, adrift in financial as well as sporting terms, has need of a private investor. It’s good luck that Dmitry Rybolovlev likes football. He is called passionate, even, with a special heart throb for the Premier League. It is undoubtedly for this reason that he wants to support a sports manager who would be all-powerful in the English style.

For those who have fallen out of love with the club, the choice of means doesn’t really matter, provided that ASM will recover its former lustre.

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