Billionaire buys Paris mansion for $305 million from Qatari prince

The transaction by French billionaire Xavier Niel is one of the largest ever deals for a private property in Paris. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - The Hotel Lambert, a property owned by Prince Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani, has been bought by French billionaire Xavier Niel for over 200 million euros (S$305 million), according to a person familiar with the matter.

The transaction is one of the largest ever deals for a private property in Paris, beating the 100 million euros paid for the Hotel de Soyecourt in 2011.

Mr Niel, the founder of telecom group Iliad, is not planning to live in the 43,000 square-foot townhouse, and is instead considering using the property for a cultural foundation, the person said, who asked not to be named discussing a private transaction.

The "hotel particulier" - the French term for a private mansion - was built in 1640 by Louis Le Vau, a royal architect who contributed to the Versailles Palace. Based on the edge of the Ile Saint-Louis, it also houses a gallery painted by Charles Le Brun, the decorator of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

House prices are surging following the pandemic. In the United States last year, at least 40 residential properties sold for more than US$50 million (S$67 million) each. In London, house prices are rising the quickest in at least two decades, according to one report.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also cut taxes for the wealthy, removing one of the biggest deterrents for high earners thinking about working in France, a move that has drawn the interest of high earners.

The acquisition of Hotel Lambert is perhaps Mr Niel's most prominent investment in real-estate to date. With a fortune of US$8.4 billion according to Bloomberg's Index, he already owns dozens of prestigious properties in Paris. A keen investor in start-ups, he created Station F, a giant incubator set in an old railway station.

First built for financier Jean-Baptiste Lambert de Thorigny, the Hotel Lambert hosted literary salons attended by Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. With owners including Polish princess Anna Czartoryska and banker Guy de Rothschild, in 2007 it was sold for over 60 million euros to Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani, the brother of the former Emir of Qatar.

Qatar has invested heavily in France, buying Paris Saint-Germain Football Club in 2011.

A controversy was sparked in 2009 when the Qatari's extensive renovation plan of the Lambert was made public, including a car elevator that was later abandoned. In 2013, a fire forced the owner to conduct another round of significant renovations, for a total cost of as much as 130 million euros, according to Le Figaro.

The son of the owner, Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani, was involved in the restoration. Known as a passionate art collector, with a collection of 5,000 ancient jewels and artifacts currently being exhibited in Paris, he is also the owner of Dudley House, one of the most expensive residences in London.

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