At the height of the 2016 ski season, when fluffy powdery snow covered the slopes above her Verbier breech hole, the Duchess of York decided to become a permanent resident of Switzerland, claiming that the Alpine country makes you feel “ free and happy ”.
“I find here a positive energy which allows me to focus on new philanthropic activities”, she explained to the Swiss newspaper Le Nouvelliste. “And I appreciate good wines. Alms [a famous Swiss red wine] in particular. And this white wine called Les Murettes. A delight. Not to mention dried meats and cheeses!
Verbier is “my house,” added the duchess, explaining that “administrative procedures are underway” to allow her to officially settle in the tax haven of Valais.
Yorks sued by original owner of £ 18m holiday home (pictured) in Verbier, Switzerland, which they bought in 2014
The move came at a happy time for Fergie and former husband, Prince Andrew, who had completed a year earlier the purchase of Chalet Helora, an ultra high-end property in the exclusive complex, which would act as a ` “ egg nest ” for their two daughters and allow the family to indulge their love of skiing.
With the help of a few wealthy friends, including a certain quick-living financier called Jeffrey Epstein, the couple also managed to pay off huge debts that threatened to engulf the Duchess for the second time in their adult lives.
Now they could afford to live in style, sharing the time between Royal Lodge, the Windsor Great Park home Andrew has a 75-year lease and the luxury seven-bedroom chalet, which previously had six part-time employees full, and was available to hire for more than £ 22,000 per week.
Said to be furnished with chic antiques, it included a large master bedroom draped in animal furs, as well as an indoor pool of 650 square feet, a sauna, a sun terrace, a cloakroom, a bar and a sumptuous entertainment area . Close neighbors include Sir Richard Branson and singer James Blunt.
The couple owe £ 6.7 million to the former acquaintance because she did not pay the full bill for the Helora chalet and is now on trial five years and four months later.
“None of them have their own property and they wanted to buy the chalet as a property to leave to their children,” a source told reporters at the time.
But it was, of course, then.
Four years later, the Duchess of York never became a permanent resident of Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the Helora chalet is suddenly at the center of a new and ugly chapter in the seemingly endless collection of embarrassing situations for the royal couple, now 60 years old.
This last hug revolves around a thorny question that so often seems to raise its ugly head in York’s household: money.
It appeared yesterday that the duo were the subject of an aggressive legal procedure continued by the original owner of the Chalet Helora, an old acquaintance to whom they owed the considerable sum of 6.7 million pounds sterling.
Legal documents filed by the law firm of this anonymous person, Etude du Ritz, indicate that part of this sum had to be reimbursed before December 31.
However, more than four months later, it remains pending, according to sources, “despite Sarah’s messages promising that payment would be made”.
After taking out a mortgage on the property, they reached an agreement with the seller to postpone the payment for five years until the end of 2019. They then agreed to pay £ 6.7 million plus interest.
The original owner, who is said to be a woman beneficiary of a trust fund, would have sold the Helora chalet to the Yorks in November 2014 for 22 million Swiss francs, or approximately 18 million pounds sterling.
To raise the funds, the duke and his ex-wife contracted a mortgage of 16 million francs (13.25 million pounds sterling).
The remaining six million francs (£ 5 million) was to be paid in cash, each increasing by half.
But for reasons that are not clear, they never settled this part of the bill.
Instead, the royal couple reached an agreement with the seller to postpone payment for five years until the end of 2019. They agreed to pay eight million francs (£ 6.7 million) thereafter. , representing the initial sum, plus interest.
(We must – of course! – assume that the mortgage company has been informed and sanctioned of this unconventional arrangement).
Five years have now passed, plus those four months, and the royal couple have failed to repay their debt. As a result, their creditor decided to go to court.
But the royal couple failed to honor their debt and, as a result, their creditor, who is also the couple’s former friend, decided to take legal action.
To add to the awkwardness of the situation, I suppose that she is a former friend of the couple, who welcomed members of the royal family to Chalet Helora long before agreeing to sell it.
It is, after all, a terrible mess.
However, behind this thorny dispute hides a more serious riddle for Prince Andrew and his former spouse.
Namely: how on earth, given the ongoing conflicts concerning his relationship with the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, can the duke finance his daily existence?
Since retiring from royal office in November, he has been forced to rely on a small Navy pension, estimated at around £ 20,000 a year, as well as an annual allowance from the Queen of about £ 250,000.
Sarah Ferguson, for her part, lost a series of commercial contracts.
Yet they continue to live in a certain style, employing a house full of servants and (judging by the photographs on their social networks) keeping expensive collections of jewelry and wristwatches, and receiving regular visits from a florist.
In addition, the Duke is now forced to pay expensive legal fees after hiring Gary Bloxsome, a criminal law specialist who represents “ wealthy people in international jurisdictions ” to represent him in litigation relating to the case. Epstein, as well as one from Clare Montgomery, QC, one of the UK’s leading extradition lawyers.
Yorkers believe they stayed on their side of the cottage affair and are shocked to find themselves dragged to court
Andrew no longer uses the Royal Press office at Buckingham Palace and instead retains Mark Gallagher, a public relations supremo nicknamed “ the repairman behind the scenes ”, who helped exonerate VIPs falsely accused of pedophilia by the fantasy Carl Beech – better known as “ Nick ” – in 2014.
In other words, the duo earn less than ever and spend much more.
“Everything that happened after August of last year [when Epstein was arrested and committed suicide] has had the effect of radically changing their financial situation, ”says a source familiar with the matter.
“Their ability to earn money or raise funds disappeared very quickly, while their expenses increased dramatically. It quickly became apparent that they would not be able to pay their unpaid cottage related debts.
“So they approached the seller and asked instead to be allowed to sell it and then pay off the debt.”
I understand that the seller initially accepted this agreement, which provided that the Helora chalet was officially valued at approximately 22 million Swiss francs, or just over 18 million pounds, the same price as the Yorkers had paid. five years ago.
However, for reasons that are not clear, it was not properly placed on the market by the time the coronavirus struck. This seems to have caused an escalation of friction.
As for the current situation and how to resolve it, there now seem to be two competing versions of events.
Pictured: Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson and family in front of their chalet in Verbier, Switzerland, for his 43rd birthday
The Yorkers believe that they stayed on their side with regard to the chalet and are shocked to find themselves dragged before the courts.
“Their intention is to sell as soon as possible and liquidate this debt, and that is what they were doing, so they are puzzled as to why it suddenly increased in this way,” said a source.
Although the chalet has not been officially put on the market, local sources have told me that they had “ turned off the sounders ” in order to find a buyer and that a sale should be concluded in the next few month.
The seller is not so sure. The coronavirus has devastated the real estate market, especially for high-end ski properties, since alpine resorts were at the center of the European epidemic, and there is no guarantee that they will be able to open fully during the season next.
She would not only be tired of waiting for the cash to arrive, but she also seems that the Duchess – who has a form to leave the creditors in embarrassment – gave her the brush stroke.
“Fergie has always been horrible with money. She has accumulated five-digit debts twice, once in the 1990s, which she paid while working with WeightWatchers and once in the 2000s that Andrew was able to settle using her status and relationships, ” says a Royal insider. “Recent events mean that he is simply no longer able to do so.”
Since the Epstein scandal, the Duke has been forced to rely on a small Navy pension, estimated at around £ 20,000 a year, as well as an annual allowance of £ 250,000 from the Queen.
The Epstein scandal also ended the Duke’s globetrotting career, on the one hand as a traveling trade ambassador from Great Britain, and on the other with his Pitch @ Palace initiative, including one part is structured as a business of which he is the sole beneficial owner.
These trips had for years allowed him to rub shoulders with a motley collection of international businessmen, politicians and statesmen, many of whom came from some of the most corrupt and despotic regimes in the world.
Often times the connections made during these trips can be extremely lucrative. For example, in 2008, it appeared that he had sold his marital home, Sunninghill Park, to an old friend named Timur Kulibayev, a son-in-law of the then president of Kazakhstan.
The price paid was £ 15 million, about £ 3 million more than the asking price, despite the fact that common property had languished on the market for years and was then demolished.
Meanwhile, in 2011, the prince (who was then supposedly an itinerant ambassador to Britain) telephoned, then personally emailed, to another Kazakh businessman named Kenges Rakishev on behalf of a Greek water company called EYDAP and a Swiss finance house called Aras Capital.
Messages subsequently obtained by post revealed that the companies wanted to tender for a £ 385 million contract for the construction of water and sewer systems in Astana and Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan and most big city, the first of which boasted of Rakishev’s stepfather as mayor.
Describing the consortium as “ we ” and describing what he called “ the water plan ”, the prince then said that his private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, would personally help introduce the companies to high Kazakh political figures.
According to the Greek leaders involved in the offer, Andrew was to receive a 1% commission, or 3.85 million pounds sterling, for helping to negotiate a successful deal.
The Mail’s revelations about the affair fueled suggestions that the Duke was quietly earning money as a repairman, using his royal status and relationships gleaned through official functions to make money by facilitating business transactions.
He always denied the accusation, but never explained why he sent emails about the remediation project.
Anyway, he and the Duchess of York likely thought, when they bought their Swiss ski chalet, that within the next five years they would be able to raise the £ 5 million needed to pay him. This was clearly not the case.
In an apparent attempt to create gainful employment, the Duchess opened an account on the networking site Linked In this week, describing herself as “ a global humanitarian, a businesswoman, a children’s book author, a producer and a successful wellness activist.
The page also offered its services as a “spokesperson” and “producer”. But as recent events suggest, it’s probably a bad idea for anyone considering hiring her to leave her – or for that matter her husband – anywhere near a balance sheet.