The claims LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault engaged in money laundering are “as absurd as they are unfounded”, the tycoon’s lawyer has said.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Jacqueline Laffont has brushed off the allegations facing Europe’s richest man, which are centred on a deal with Russian billionaire Nikolai Sarkisov.

Arnault is reportedly being investigated in France for money laundering.

In December last year, Tracfin, part of France’s finance ministry, raised concerns with Lyon’s public prosecutor’s office over the duo’s business partnerships and potential money laundering, Le Monde reported last week. The case was then passed on to Paris’ public prosecutor’s office.

The probe centres on the purchase of around 12 apartments in French ski resort Courchevel, Le Monde reported. LVMH also owns the Cheval Blanc and White 1921 hotels in Courchevel, which are part of its hotel management arm.

Sarkisov reportedly leant money to Arnault for the purchase via a transaction involving several of the pair’s business entities – which Tracfin viewed as a laundering threat.

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By GlobalData

Just Drinks has contacted LVMH for comment.

“The operation that was carried out to enable the expansion of the Cheval Blanc hotel in Courchevel is well known and was carried out in compliance with the laws and with the support of advisors,” Laffont told Bloomberg on Saturday (2 October).

“Who can seriously imagine that Mr. Bernard Arnault, who, over the past forty years, has built the leading French and European company, would engage in money laundering to expand a hotel?” Laffont said. “I don’t think anyone can fail to notice the insanity of these allegations.”

Last year, Arnault announced plans to reorganise his holding company in a bid to ensure long-term family control over LVMH. 

Arnault, who is Europe’s wealthiest individual and one of the richest in the world, planned to turn his family holding company – Agache – into a joint-stock partnership, in a move designed to hand control of the entity to his five children, all of whom work for LMVH.

“This new structure will permit to perpetuate the family control over the long-term and will permit a unified expression of the controlling shareholder’s voice regarding Christian Dior SE and LVMH SE,” Agache said in a statement at the time.

In the first half of 2023, LVMH reported lower wine-and-spirits sales, pointing to “softer” demand in the US. In the opening six months of the year, sales from LVMH’s Cognac and spirits business unit declined 11% on an underlying basis to €1.6bn ($1.7bn).

The result dragged down sales from the wider wines-and-spirits division, which fell by 4% to €3.1bn and were 3% lower on an organic basis.