Sergey Grishin, ‘Scarface Oligarch’ who sold Prince Harry and Meghan Markle their Montecito house – obituary
Sergey Grishin, who has died in Moscow aged 56, was the Russian oligarch who in 2020 sold the Duke and Duchess of Sussex their nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom mansion in the exclusive Montecito neighbourhood of Santa Barbara, California; it is not known whether the couple were aware of the vendor’s dark past.
Known as the “Scarface Oligarch” because he had previously owned another California estate which featured in the 1983 Al Pacino film, the heavy-set Grishin claimed to have “practically brought the Russian banking system to collapse” in the 1990s by committing “the largest bank fraud scheme ever”, and at the time of the sale of the Chateau of Riven Rock to the royal couple, was embroiled in a legal battle with his estranged wife featuring claims and counter claims of violence.
Sergey Grishin was born on June 21 1966. After taking a degree in Physics from the Moscow Institute of Electronics Technics, as the Soviet Union crumbled he began his career baking cookies and hot dogs in his flat and selling them on the streets of Moscow. By the late 1990s he had become chairman of the Rosevro Group, owners of Rosevrobank, established in 1994.
In 2014 an investigation by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project listed Rosevrobank among those involved in an enormous US$20 billion transfer of dirty Russian funds into the western banking system, dubbed “the Global Laundromat”. One expert described the scheme as “the pipe through which the proceeds of kleptocracy flow from Russia to the west”.
In 2018 Grishin uploaded videos to YouTube (since deleted) in which he boasted of his central role in the scandal: “I invented it. I stole a lot in Estonia and Russia. It was the largest fraud scheme, because no one knew exactly how much money was stolen.” Some estimates suggest that the “Laundromat” might have netted him as much as $60 billion.
Grishin’s aim seemed to be to persuade the Trump administration to grant him US citizenship by implying he had inside knowledge of Russian criminality which would be of interest to the FBI. He wanted American officials to know “how a single person like me can cause the collapse of the Russian banking system”.
“I want to be safe,” he explained. “I am kind of under fire right now by the criminal world of Russia…by the top government officials of Russia, too.”
By the time the videos appeared Grishin had already invested heavily, if unwisely, in US real estate. In 2008 he paid around $20 million for El Fureidis, where scenes of Scarface had been filmed, selling it in 2014 for $17.9 million. In 2009 he paid $25.3 million for the estate which he sold in 2020 to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for $14.65 million.
According to Russian Media Grishin was married at least three times. His last marriage, in 2017, to Anna Fedoseeva lasted less than a year, sparking a prolonged court battle, with Grishin being accused, variously, of assault, battery, extortion, domestic violence, invasion of privacy and cyberstalking. Both Anna Fedoseeva and her friend and business partner Jennifer Sulkess successfully sought restraining orders against him, amid claims of death threats and the hiring of hitmen.
Grishin was later reported to have begun a relationship with Ekaterina Loginova, a former model who reported that she had packed her bags and fled back to Russia after Grishin issued death threats against her.
After selling the Chateau of Riven Rock to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Grishin, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, returned to live in Moscow where his death, allegedly from “circulatory problems in his brain” leading to sepsis, was reported by BAZA media, which has close links with the Russian authorities.
Sergey Grishin, born June 21 1966, died March 6 2023