17 NOVEMBER 2003

Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who recently bought Chelsea Football Club, has been flashing his cash round the exclusive French ski resort of Courchevel 1,850 by attempting to buy the 20 most valuable properties in the region.

Despite offering some owners treble the market value for their chalets, Roman found them reluctant to let go of their beloved Alpine boltholes. Altogether he was offering a staggering £150 million for the properties, the same amount he splashed out on Chelsea FC.

After failing to procure any of the properties, the tycoon booked 40 suites in the resort's most exclusive hotels for seven weeks. His jaw-dropping flamboyance won't much affect the businessman's bank balance, however. His most recent extravagance was a £72-million yacht and he spent £111 million on new players when he took over at Chelsea.

"I drove around for two days with Mr Abramovich as he approached 20 chalet owners trying to buy their properties," revealed resort manager René Montgrandi. "He made it clear that money was no object. I was very straightforward with the owners. I knew what they would say in advance – it was no surprise to me… But Mr Abramovich said he would pay double or triple as each owner declined to sell."

Courchevel 1,850, which takes its name from its height above sea level, has become a popular playground for Russia's mega-rich. René also revealed that many of the visitors, who have learned to ski in the Russian military, have left his instructors open-mouthed with their skills.

Roman, meanwhile, has been tipped to lead the Sunday Times Rich List next year. "Abramovich looks certain to top the next List as the richest person in Britain," revealed the newspaper's Philip Beresford. "He is probably the richest man in the world in terms of available cash rather than stocks and shares."

The Russian billionaire is expected to top next year's Sunday Times Rich List
Friends of Roman and their countrymen have been heading for Courchevel in droves
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