When it comes to shell companies and foreign subsidiaries, we rarely think about our vacation or “chalet” in the Alps.
The fact is that over 50% of real estate in the Alps, we are talking about quality properties, is owned by local or foreign companies, which are often themselves owned by other companies.
Far from the idyllic image of the strong local community, we have known for long that the French and Swiss Alps have become an interesting market place for foreign investors, often from the former Soviet Union, where real estate can reach heights on pricing.
What is however new is the growing reaction of the remaining “locals” legitimately asking, who owns their land.
Yes, you will find information at the local land registry but what if the land belongs to a company which belongs to another company and so on?
We found an interesting example with Eric Arnoux, a dubious French entrepreneur domiciled in Switzerland, currently developing a large-scale project in Switzerland. According to local media, the project would be compromised by the local authorities, particularly because of the lack of investors and the opacity of the ownership structure.
Indeed, the promoting company is the Swiss Guernières Résidences SA, owned by Swiss company Lux Planet, which is owned by French Pure Concept Investment Fund SICAV, owned by French Pure Concept Management Sàrl, finally owned by French national but domiciled in Switzerland: Eric Arnoux.
Either I would be a local representative or an investor, I would ask myself why so many corporates veils between the developer and the project.
Some will say because of taxes, others, less naïve, will say because of the fear of bankruptcy and responsibility, and so far most of these gigantic alpine projects proved me right. Indeed, local reports have also revealed that Eric Arnoux has been the subject of debt enforcement proceedings worth tens of millions of Swiss francs – inconvenient facts hidden from both foreign investors and local populations.
The question of the corporate veil has been agitating the European politician and lawyers for quite long. It is however surprising that the question rises again so far from our beloved British Virgin Island or from Panama, right in the middle of the Alps where we like to spend our holidays.