Andrei Vavilov, a former deputy finance minister and hedge fund magnate.
Andrei Vavilov generated worldwide headlines when he sued Plaza Hotel developer Elad Properties in 2008, complaining that two penthouses he’d committed to buy for a cool $53.5 million (and planned to combine) had been ruined by ugly architectural features including narrow windows that “make the space more closely resemble an attic than a luxury penthouse living room,” according to the lawsuit.
Vavilov, who sports wire-rimmed glasses and a salt-and-pepper buzz-cut, illustrates both the spoils in play in modern Russia and the danger one can face in attempting to grab them.
He rose to be deputy finance minister under former President Boris Yeltsin in 1992, helped push through privatizations and other reforms and survived a James Bond–like assassination attempt in 1996, when someone blew up his car in a Kremlin parking lot, according to the New York Times. (Vavilov was not in it at the time.)
He later joined the board of the Russian energy firm Gazprom as a financial counselor, bought a controlling stake in a smaller oil company with a $25 million loan and sold the company just four years later for $600 million in cash, according to the newspaper. But he was dogged by suspicions that he was involved in insider deals and, in the late 1990s, Russian federal prosecutors investigated whether he embezzled $231 million during the sale of MiG fighter jets to India. He denied the accusations, and the case was closed in 2008 after the 10-year statute of limitations expired.
Vavilov, of course, is just one of the many Russian billionaires to buy a lavish New York apartment in the last few years. And that number is only likely to grow. The number of Russians on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires has gone from zero in 2000 to 96 this year. And every year, new arrivals seem to one-up each other when it comes to buying real estate here.
One of the highest-profile deals involving a Russian billionaire is, of course, the $88 million pad that Dmitry Rybolovlev bought for his 22-year-old daughter, Ekaterina, at 15 Central Park West. The purchase of the apartment, which was owned by former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill, was the highest closed sales price ever for a Manhattan apartment.
The purchase came four years after Rybolovlev broke another record, when he shelled out about $100 million for Donald Trump’s 69,000-square-foot Palm Beach estate.
Both of those properties are now at the center of his divorce.
Rybolovlev’s estranged wife, Elena, sued in Manhattan and Florida, alleging that Rybolovlev used trusts linked to their children to shield his assets from her.
Rybolovlev — who’s worth an estimated $8 billion — was one of Russia’s early stockbrokers. He bought shares in state-owned enterprises, founded a bank and made his fortune investing in potash fertilizer during the privatization of those state-owned enterprises.
Like Vavilov, his past is replete with innuendo and spy-novel–type details.
He is said to wear a bulletproof vest, has an art collection worth more than $500 million with works by Monet and Picasso, and owns homes in Dubai, Monaco, Paris and Geneva. According to the New York Times, Rybolovlev has not set foot in either the Florida or New York property since purchasing them.