To launch his new hotel, Telman Ismailov hired a private jet to fly in 242lb of Beluga caviar and paid Paris Hilton, Sharon Stone and Richard Gere to attend the party.
The sprawling Mardan Palace on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, which boasts 560 rooms and a five-acre pool, cost £1 billion to build. Defying the world financial crisis, Ismailov indulged his taste for gaudy opulence in his celebrations. At one point the Azeri-born mogul danced with guests as they were sprayed with $100 bills, at a reported cost of $61m (£37m).
Less than a month later Ismailov, 52, may have come to regret such ostentation as he faces the apparent wrath of Vladimir Putin. Russia’s prime minister is said to be furious that Ismailov has invested so much abroad and flaunted his riches when Russia has been hard hit by the credit crunch.
A few days after the Mardan Palace opened near Antalya, Putin scolded officials for failing to make arrests after a raid at the Cherkizovsky wholesale market in Moscow, owned by one of Ismailov’s companies.
The raid netted Russia’s largest haul of contraband – 6,000 containers of allegedly pirated and smuggled goods from China worth £1.2 billion. It took place last September but received little coverage until Ismailov’s party, which also featured the singers Mariah Carey, Seal and Tom Jones for a rumoured fee of £600,000 each.
“A result would be to send people to jail – but where are the convictions?” Putin said during a cabinet meeting a few days later. Prosecutors quickly charged three customs officers with clearing illegal goods.
“The market is a source of corruption, offences and various crimes,” said Russia’s deputy prosecutor. “We need the will and the power to tear out this pest.” Russian state tele-vision claimed that billions of dollars had been laundered at the sprawling complex.
Yuri Luzhkov – the mayor of Moscow and a close friend of Ismailov who attended the Mardan Palace party with his billionaire wife Elena Baturina – promised to close down the market.
Ismailov, who is said to be worried by the prosecutors’ interest, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He strongly denied any links to the contraband goods.
“I’m the owner of the market but I do not own the goods traded there,” said Ismailov, whose wealth is estimated at nearly £400m. “I only rent out trading space. I do not believe that the persecution against me has been ordered by prime minister Putin.”
The Mardan Palace, named after Ismailov’s father, has a private beach of 8,800 tons of sand imported from Egypt. The swimming pool is large enough for 1,000 swimmers and there are gondolas to ferry guests across.
A Russian businessman who attended the bash said: “Oligarchs were always very unpopular among ordinary people. The timing of Ismailov’s party could hardly have been worse.”
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