Russian magnate denies buying world's No.1 home

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov listens to a question during a news conference in Moscow, May 31, 2007. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov denied on Tuesday French media reports he had bought the world’s most expensive home, a French Mediterranean villa.

Newspapers said on Monday Prokhorov, 43, paid 496 million euros ($730.4 million) for a property in southern France called Villa Leopolda, built in 1902 for Belgian King Leopold II.

But Prokhorov’s spokesman said the magnate was not behind the deal and said his boss would not do business in France until authorities apologize for briefly detaining him in a prostitution probe last year in the sky resort of Courchevel.

“Before the conflict with French authorities is settled and before he gets an apology from the French side, neither Onexim nor Prokhorov himself would do any business in France,” said Sergei Chernitsyn, referring to the metal tycoon’s investment vehicle, Onexim Holdings.

Prokhorov, Russia’s fifth richest man, made his estimated $22 billion fortune during the economic free-for-all in Russia in the 1990s, when businessmen bought up parts of Soviet industry at a fraction of their real value.

The unmarried mining tycoon and Roman Abramovich, Russia’s third richest man and the owner of English soccer club Chelsea, regularly make headlines in Russian tabloids, which link them with exotic, big-ticket purchases around the world.

Sources close to Abramovich have also denied he was behind the purchase of Villa Leopolda but both French and Russian media insist the transaction involved a Russian billionaire.

The sale, if confirmed, would put the nine-hectare (22-acre) estate at the top of Forbes magazine’s most expensive homes list, ahead of a California house once owned by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, and a Romanian castle where Vlad the Impaler was imprisoned.

Reporting by Polina Devitt; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Louise Ireland