Russia's Roman Abramovich has quietly added a $90 million estate in St. Bart's to his global toy chest, which already includes a Cap d'Antibes chateau, an English soccer team and one of the world's largest yachts.
The 70-acre estate rises behind Governor beach in the lush, wealthy Caribbean playground of St. Bart's. Balinese bungalows with ocean views, tennis courts, swimming pools and music and dining pavilions dot the property.
Now, it's the latest home of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, a person close to the deal has told the Journal. With its nearly $90 million sale price, the property is one of the most expensive private homes ever sold, but for the oligarch it will be just one of many spectacular possessions, which also include the world's largest privately owned yacht, a Colorado ski estate, England's Chelsea soccer team and a contemporary art collection valued at more than $100 million.
By Land, Air and Sea
The seller of the Governor Bay property was Jeet Singh, co-founder of Art Technology Group Inc., now known as ATG, the Cambridge, Mass., maker of Web software used by retailers including Tommy Hilfiger and Best Buy. Mr. Singh, 46 years old, had been living on St. Bart's part-time since he left ATG in 2002 until this year, when he moved to Paris. "It was just sort of time to go," says Mr. Singh, who says he bought the estate in 2000 and "didn't lose too much" on the deal. The estate was a gathering place for his friends and family, he says, and his band, the Singhs, recorded their albums there.
A spokesman for Mr. Abramovich, age 42, declined to comment.
Brought up by relatives in Ukhta, northern Russia, after his parents died, Mr. Abramovich became an oil trader in the early 1990s and rose to become the billionaire owner of OAO Sibneft, Russia's fifth-largest oil company. His fortune increased when OAO Gazprom, the Russian state gas giant, bought Sibneft for $13.1 billion. He is one of a cluster of oligarchs who have become some of the world's biggest spenders, transforming London real estate, the global art market and yachting.
Mr. Abramovich's primary residence is in Moscow, but he also has homes in London, where he bought Chelsea Football Club in 2003. His London real estate is in some of the capital's ritziest neighborhoods—though he had to cede some of his prized possessions, such as a 420-acre West Sussex estate called Fyning Hill, to ex-wife Irina after their 2007 divorce.
Mr. Abramovich's latest project is to merge eight apartments into one huge home in Lowndes Square, Knightsbridge. With properties in the district sometimes selling for as much as £4,000 (about $6,600) a square foot, the house, once completed, could be worth as much as £120 million, some experts say. He also owns the Chateau de la Croë in Cap d'Antibes on the French Riviera. It's the former home of the exiled Duke of Windsor, who gave up the British crown in 1936.
The billionaire has planted his flag in the U.S., as well. Last year he bought two homes in Snowmass Village, Colo., paying $11.8 million last February for a 5,600-square-foot ski-in, ski-out house and, two months later, $36.4 million for a 200-acre ranch in Wildcat Ridge. The 14,300-square-foot house there, with 11 bedrooms, came with custom furniture, including a chair made of leather and mink. The seller was Leon Hirsch, the surgical-equipment tycoon who founded United States Surgical Corp.
"As far as a neighbor who's in absentia, I couldn't ask for a better neighbor," says philanthrophist Lois Pope, the widow of National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope Jr., who has lived on the property adjoining Mt. Abramovich's in Wildcat Ridge for nearly a decade. Mr. Abramovich spent only a few days over the Fourth of July weekend in the area this summer, she said.
Mr. Abramovich is a world-class consumer of expensive things. His fleet of yachts includes the 377-foot Pelorus and the 282-foot Ecstasea, which usually sail around the Mediterranean off the coasts France, Spain and Italy.
His newest boat, called Eclipse, exceeds 540 feet and is in the final stages of construction by German ship builder Blohm & Voss. Yacht builders say Eclipse has two helipads, a swimming pool, bulletproof glass, a steam room and a personal submarine. The boat cost an estimated $300 million or more to build. The ship, the world's biggest private yacht, recently started its sea trials off Hamburg and is expected to be delivered to Mr. Abramovich late this year or early next year.
While Blohm & Voss has tried to keep a veil of secrecy around the boat, yacht watchers have started snapping photos of Eclipse during its recent test outings.
Two years ago Mr. Abramovich upended the art establishment during a major round of auctions in New York by paying Christie's $33.6 million for Lucian Freud's earthy nude portrait, "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping," a move that turned Mr. Freud into the priciest living artist at auction. The next night at Sotheby's, Mr. Abramovich paid $86.3 million for Francis Bacon's "Triptych, 1976," a mint-green painting of a man being eaten by birds that now ranks as the most expensive contemporary artwork ever sold at auction.
Mr. Abramovich maintains a much more public profile in the art world than other top Russian collectors like Leonid Friedland, whose Mercury Group bought a majority stake in boutique auction house Phillips de Pury last year.
Helping Mr. Abramovich hold sway over Moscow's art scene is his girlfriend, Daria Zhukova, 28, who's the daughter of oligarch Alexander Zhukov and now editor of the British fashion magazine Pop. A year ago Mr. Abramovich paid to help Ms. Zhukova transform a former bus depot in Moscow into the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. A Bacon show is slated for next year at the Garage.
The couple are often spotted at art parties with French luxury-goods mogul François Pinault and New York dealer Larry Gagosian, and Mr. Abramovich's presence causes a paparazzi-style stir whenever he turns up at art fairs. Typically attired in blue jeans and an untucked dress shirt, he's known for spending a long time studying individual artworks, often visiting the same booth several times, before buying. This summer at Basel, he was spotted eyeing a $74.5 million Warhol, "Big Retrospective Painting," at the booth of Zurich dealer Bruno Bischofberger.
The secret to the oligarchs' success was their ability to parlay close ties to the political elite that ruled Russia during the 1990s into priceless business opportunities. Mr. Abramovich was seen as the ultimate Kremlin insider, and a close friend of President Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. The tycoon has never publicly commented on his alleged links to the Yeltsin family.
Eventually, Mr. Abramovich become governor of Russia's icebound, far-eastern province of Chukotka. Once he took over in 2000, he spent a chunk of his fortune on philanthropic projects and teachers' and doctors' salaries, becoming a huge hit with the impoverished locals.
Regarding the St. Bart's property, "it's very open bungalows, and it's like you're basically living on a beach," Mr. Singh says. "It's not like a lot of things you might see on St. Bart's which are kind of fancy." The land was once owned by David Rockefeller. Christian Wattiau, managing partner of Sibarth Real Estate, a Christie's Great Estates affiliate, was on both sides of the deal. He declined to comment.
—Kelly Crow and Robert Frank contributed to this article.