Friday, July 19, 2024

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Seychelles: Conservancy Founder Buys D’Arros Island from L'Oréal Heiress

The deep-pocketed founder of a nature conservation group has purchased a 371-acre Seychelles island from Europe’s wealthiest woman – does this spell an end to the long controversy over D’Arros?

(Image of D'Arros Copyright F. Vladi)

For such a tranquil piece of paradise, it’s seemingly impossible for D’Arros Island to stay out of international headlines. A tiny jewel in the remote Indian Ocean country of the Seychelles, the island spent the better part of two years embroiled in a legal battle over ownership and taxes, one fuelled by constant media coverage and salacious headlines. Of course, throughout her life, the owner has been no stranger to the paparazzi – as the heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune and a noted philanthropist, Liliane Bettencourt has had her share of the limelight.

Recently, claims of unpaid taxes on her purchase of the island has led to some of these unforgiving headlines, part of a broader scandal that has even resulted in investigations of former French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s offices. Now that the island has sold, Forbes reports that Mrs. Bettencourt’s guardian has agreed to pay $8 million in owed taxes to the Seychelles government. Her daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, obtained a guardianship over her mother’s estate when it was revealed that she was suffering from dementia, and may have been taken advantage of by a young friend.

Few people are as familiar with the history of D’Arros as is Farhad Vladi, founder of international island brokerage Vladi Private Islands. In fact, his company has rented the tropical isle numerous times, and sold it for use by the Imperial Family of Iran in 1975, whose members enjoyed holidays on D’Arros for many years. He said that the island’s conservation was a positive step for the Seychelles. “Like many island regions of exceptional beauty, the Seychelles must keep vigilant of over-development,” he said. “While the country has managed conservation very well, a nature reserve on D’Arros Island is a wonderful idea.”

While some in the Seychelles media have questioned why the government did not purchase D’Arros itself, members of the administration have come out in support of the sale. ”Previously D’Arros did not enjoy any protection,” said Rolph Payet, the Seychelles’ Environment and Energy Minister. “Anybody could have gone there and done what they wanted but now with protected status under the Nature Conservancy Act there will be enforcement and monitoring of the atoll.” The remote island is found in the outlying Amirantes Group, known for its spectacular scenery, even by Seychellois standards.

(Map of D'Arros and surrounding islands)

Questions are raised, however, about the island’s buyer, as well as its reported selling price. The purchaser of the island is the unidentified founder of the Save our Seas Foundation, a mysterious figure who has declined to be named. What he or she paid for the island is also unclear; various media outlets have reported prices of US $60 million, $74 million, or even $94 million, while the quiet asking price was known to be €50 million.

If the speculative sale prices are anywhere close to being accurate, the island was sold for significantly above market value. There is little by way of recent development on D’Arros, despite taped phone conversations revealing that Mrs. Bettencourt said that between €50 and €60 million had been spent on the island. The white villa is somewhat dilapidated, and while it does offer an airstrip and a scattering of outbuildings, there is little to indicate where these many millions of euros may have gone.

Another issue is that for a hotel or resort developer, an island in the Seychelles carries caché, and a price of a few tens of million euros may have been realistic – but as a nature reserve with no possibility of development, it would be an unheard-of amount, especially if it did indeed reach €50 million or above. Considering the scandals surrounding D’Arros – and that it was sold to an anonymous buyer and perhaps at a greatly inflated price – a reasonable question should be asked: is there more to this island sale than meets the eye?

Read more about this story: Forbes

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