A Rocky Mountain mansion owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich would likely be among the first assets frozen by the U.S. government if he is sanctioned by the White House in response to the war in Ukraine, according to attorneys and real estate executives.
Among Abramovich’s many global real estate trophies is a 14,000-square-foot modern mega-home on 200 acres in Snowmass, Colorado, just outside of Aspen. The Russian billionaire, whose yacht fleet, soccer team and giant homes in London, France and St. Bart’s gave him a high profile in the West, bought the property in 2008 for $36.5 million. Local brokers say the property would likely sell for well over $50 million given soaring prices — making it the second most expensive home ever sold in the Aspen area.
“It’s an incredible property, and very rare,” said Riley Warwick, co-founder of Aspen-based brokerage team Saslove & Warwick at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “A lot of my clients have been asking about it.”
Abramovich also owns a 5,500-square-foot chalet-style home in Snowmass Village, which he purchased in 2008 for $11.8 million, according to local property records. The property, just down the road from his bigger home, likely serves as a guest house, caretaker’s house or ski house, since it’s next to the slopes, local brokers say.
Experts say the properties are prime targets for an asset freeze if Abramovich is sanctioned. Unlike most oligarch-owned real estate in the U.S., the Snowmass properties were both purchased and remain in Abramovich’s name, according to local property records. The government can more easily and quickly seize assets that are under the official ownership of a sanctioned individual, since they don’t have to go through legal procedures to determine ownership.
Most U.S. real estate owned by Russian billionaires and oligarchs is held through anonymous shell companies or LLCs to hide their true ownership. Many oligarchs also transferred their U.S. properties in recent years to relatives or associates. Oleg Deripaska has transferred his U.S. real estate, including two townhouses in Manhattan and a home in Washington, D.C., to relatives. Abramovich transferred ownership of three Manhattan townhouses to his ex-wife Dasha Zhukova in 2018.
Abramovich has been sanctioned in the U.K. and Canada but not in the European Union or the U.S. The White House is currently weighing whether to include Abramovich in its next round of sanctions, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Abramovich’s spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment. A Denver attorney, Brad Schacht, who represented Abramovich in a lawsuit against Comcast Cable stemming from a fiber-optic project on the property, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The threat of a Justice Department seizure has already sparked widespread speculation and intrigue in Aspen, a small town with outsized wealth and super-sized homes. Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke, L Brands founder Leslie Wexner, food-and-beverage magnates Stuart and Linda Resnick own homes there, along with Jeff Bezos’ parents and media tycoon Byron Allen. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are longtime Aspenites, and the Kardashians, Kate Hudson and Kevin Hart are among the parade of regular Hollywood visitors.
Locals say Abramovich used to have a higher profile in town, hosting a New Year’s Eve party in 2008 featuring the Pussycat Dolls. He has also given to local charity, with his name listed prominently as a donor on the side of the Chabad of Aspen. Local property tax records show he was recently billed $68,000 in property taxes for the big house and $29,000 for the smaller property.
Over the past decade, however, Abramovich has stayed out of the local limelight. Local business owners and residents say he rarely if ever visits. The property is ideally suited for privacy, surrounded by 200 acres at the end of a remote, narrow mountain road with only one other home. Abramovich could easily make the 15-minute drive from his private jet and stay in his house without any public scrutiny, locals say.
“That house is very private and removed,” real estate broker Warwick said. “He could easily slip in and out without anyone noticing.”
The home is well known in architectural circles and was designed by New York-based Voorsanger Architects. Perched nearly 1,000 feet above Snowmass Village, it rises like a giant glass wedge along Wildcat Ridge. Its steel folded-plate roof, which looks like a giant wing, was designed for heavy snow loads and cantilevers 40-feet over the driveway.
Inside, the home is clad in sleek black walnut with floor-to-ceiling windows offering dramatic views of Capitol Peak, Mount Daly, the Roaring Fork Valley and Aspen. A 12-foot-tall moss-rock wall divides the east and west wings. Brokers say Abramovich added millions of dollars worth of improvements to the home, including space underground.
If Abramovich is sanctioned, the U.S. Justice Department’s new KleptoCapture Task Force would likely be able to freeze the property, but not seize it or take ownership. Sanctions experts say the only way the government can take title is if they can prove Abramovich has committed a U.S. crime.
Meantime, potential wealthy buyers are already circling. Like many ultra-rich towns after the pandemic, Aspen has a shortage of luxury homes for sale, with far more buyers than sellers. Supply of single-family homes in Aspen is down 60% from a year ago, according to Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The average sale price of a home in Aspen is now a record $13 million.
“A lot of my clients are asking what the status of the home is, and whether it’s been frozen,” Warwick said. “There has been no information.”
Warwick said brokers hungry for listings have also likely been reaching out to Abramovich to get him to sell.
“He’s not the easiest guy to get a hold of right now,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of brokers are trying.”
By: Robert Frank I CNBC I March 21, 2022