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Behind a Wall: Investigating Company and Real Estate Ownership in France

Real estate in France, particularly in Paris and the French Riviera, has long been known to attract criminals and the corrupt. Time and again, foreign politicians and businesspeople allegedly involved in or convicted of financial crimes have been revealed to own luxury properties in France. At the start of the war in Ukraine, some 30 Kremlin-linked individuals reportedly held more than 350 million euros worth of French real estate.

Connecting suspicious individuals to their properties abroad is a notoriously difficult task because they virtually never own high-value assets directly and under their own names. Instead, real estate ownership is almost always concealed with the help of opaque corporate vehicles.

In principle, tracking potentially illicit financial flows into real estate should be possible in France, where public authorities collect information on the real owners of both companies and real estate. This data has been publicly available since 2021, so activists and investigative journalists should be able to follow the money. In reality, however, our report with Transparency International France and Transparency International and the Anti-Corruption Data Collective reveals that investigations into money laundering through French real estate are destined to hit a brick wall.

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