Iconic Paris hotel ownership row

PARIS: It was a musical playground for Marie Antoinette, a diplomatic base for Woodrow Wilson and a secluded second home for stars of stage and screen like Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin and Madonna. But now the genteel corridors of the Hotel de Crillon have been thrown into confusion by an unseemly row over ownership rights and alleged commercial skulduggery.

The hotel’s current owner, the US investment fund Starwood Capital, has become mired in a bitter legal tussle with a billionaire Saudi property magnate who claims his company has been cheated out of exclusive negotiations to buy the luxurious palace.

In a surprise move in June, Starwood announced that the historic hotel was going on the market with a price tag of around EUR300 million and appealed to potential buyers to come forward.

It claimed that an earlier agreement signed with Sheikh Mohamed al-Jaber’s company, JJW, which ensured it the sole rights to the sale, had expired because the Saudi-backed firm had “failed” to fulfil its financial commitments — a charge denied by JJW.

“The question now is to see whether the period of exclusivity is still valid. We believe it is,” said JJW’s lawyer, Maurice Lantourne, vowing to pursue the legal battle in Paris’s commercial court in September.

He added al-Jaber was “definitely’’ still keen to buy. Whoever ends up with the Crillon will no doubt be satisfied that they have acquired one of the finest of France’s top class hotels.

Situated at the beginning of the busy Place de la Concorde, it continues to play host to the world’s super-wealthy.