Rumors are swirling that Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko is ready to buy a block of oceanfront property in Venice, the Los Angeles suburb. Melnichenko’s distinctive 394-foot yacht was spotted off the coast, fueling speculation. Several web sites picked up on the report, which centers on a block of Ocean Front Walk, home to the city’s famed array of fortune tellers, jugglers and speed-crazed rollerbladers.
Of course, before anybody rushes to open a vodka bar, it should be noted that this story originated on a site called YoVenice, in a column headlined “rumormongering.” An anonymous source put together the presence of Melnichenko’s yacht and some title activity and, voila!, “the Russians are coming.”
Nevertheless, it’s certainly a fun and interesting rumor. Nothing can perk up a market like a little oligarchy action. From Thailand to London, whole markets flourished in the wake of can-you-top-this Russian buying frenzies–and many stalled when Russians grew relatively conservative. Many saw their fortunes cut in half, led by the valuations for their well-secured urban palaces.
Economic indicators suggest Russian’s elite continue to struggle. But developers around the world say Russians are venturing out again, fueled by a newfound desire to diversify their portfolios (read: get as much money out of Russia as possible).
Melnichenko, 38, is not your typical free-spending oligarch. He’s a gossip column favorite, aided by his Serbian supermodel wife, Aleksandra. Forbes ranks him at number 189 on its list of the world’s richest people, with a net worth of $4.4 billion, primarily from banking, coal and fertilizer interests.
While it may turn out Mr. Melnichenko was simply visiting Los Angeles to go to Disneyland–and maybe he’s not even on the yacht–the rumors at least provide an opportunity to talk about his jaw-dropping boat, called “A.” Beyond the usual necessities, the boat includes three swimming pools, a helipad and 23,600-square-feet of living space custom-designed by Philippe Starck. In honor of the boat’s presence, YoVenice is selling t-shirts with “I love Venice” spelled out in Russian.
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