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Deposition sheds light on ownership of mansion Russian billionaire bought from Trump, lawyer says

Dmitri Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire who bought a former Donald Trump house on Palm Beach for $95 million — but later denied owning it — finally has come through with some answers about the property.

In a deposition this month in London, a lawyer who was present said Rybolovlev acknowledged providing the money to buy the house. And the lawyer said Rybolovlev said he still pays taxes and upkeep expenses, but insisted he doesn’t own the house at 515 N. County Road, formerly the Gosman estate.

The questions were lodged by attorneys representing Dmitri’s estranged wife, Elena. As part of a divorce, she’s seeking half the value of the house. Elena has filed a lawsuit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to stake her claim.

Rybolovlev, who made his fortune in potash fertilizer, at first acknowledged the 2008 purchase was “an investment in real estate by one of the companies in which I have an interest,” according to a statement made through fertilizer company Uralkali.

But in early 2011, he said in Palm Beach County Circuit Court documents he did not own the 33,000-square-foot oceanfront manse, “either directly or indirectly.”

This was of some amusement to Trump: “Somebody paid me $100 million,” he told this reporter at the time.

In the London deposition, Rybolovlev talked of the money spent to buy and maintain the house, said David Newman, Elena’s lawyer and a partner in New York’s Day Pitney law firm.

But Newman said Rybolovlev denied having an interest in the trust or company that own the house.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Newman said.

Rybolovlev’s spokesman, Sergey Chernitsyn, denied Newman’s claims. “Mr Rybolovlev has not made any such acknowledgment in his deposition. It is completely false and misleading to claim that he has.”

Newman said Rybolovlev didn’t answer a lot of questions at the deposition, so Newman said he plans to file a motion in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to do another deposition in Palm Beach County in the hopes Rybolovlev will be more forthcoming.

In her 2009 lawsuit, Elena said Dmitri “has a history of secreting and transferring assets in order to avoid his obligations” — including paying her money as part of their divorce. The purchase of assets through trusts makes it hard for her to access the estimated $6 billion fortune.

In 2010, a Swiss court ordered his assets be frozen pending the outcome of the divorce. This included assets in his name or those held indirectly through trusts.

In a statement, Chernitsyn said the Swiss order is not effective outside the country. In addition, the order binds (Mr. Rybolovlev) only,” and not any trust or company, the statement said.

But that hasn’t stopped Rybolovev’s spending. Through trusts in his children’s names, he recently bought actor Will Smith’s $20 million Hawaiian house and an $88 million New York penthouse formerly owned by Citigroup Chairman Sandy Weill.

Chernitsyn said the trusts challenged by the wife were set up long before the divorce for the benefit of the couple’s two children.

John Christiansen, a West Palm Beach attorney representing Rybolovlev in the Palm Beach County proceedings, was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment.

In addition to Palm Beach, lawyers for Elena are seeking injunctions in New York and Hawaii to claim Elena’s stake in the properties. “He is playing games with regards to the other properties to make sure it’s not in his name but in his daughters’ names,” Newman said.

In an interview with French journalists recently, Rybolovlev said he was only trying to “secure the future of our two daughters.”

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