French real estate attracts dirty money from all over the world. Using government documents available online, this cross-border team of journalists uncovered nearly €750 million of purchases with questionable cash, from Paris to the French Riviera. That is 196 suspicious real estate operations, carried out by 62 foreign individuals.

Among them was a woman who declared herself “without profession” and purchased over €52 million worth of exclusive real estate. The investigation reveals that the woman is Sevil Aliyeva, the sister of the president of Azerbaijan (who succeeded his father in the role).

Such politically exposed persons who bought millions of euros of real estate without legitimate sources of income included the son and the wife of Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon since 1982; Faure Gnassingbé, the president of Togo; Khadem al-Qubaisi, a businessman smack in the middle of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal; Rafael Sarria Diaz, a Venezuelan citizen alleged to be a front for corrupt politicians; and Indonesia’s defence minister, Prabowo Subianto. 

In addition, the investigation found that Russian oligarchs have invested more than €350 million euros in French luxury real estate, most of the time without attracting any scrutiny.

Indeed, some sales involved French notaries with high-ranking positions in their profession’s accountability institutions. The team expects this story will likely lead to court cases and prosecutions over the next few years.

A July 2023 report by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International drew heavily on the investigation’s findings, calling on authorities to scale up  the fight against money laundering through the real estate sector.

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