LOUVECIENNES, France — When the Chateau Louis XIV sold for over $300 million two years ago, Fortune magazine called it “the world’s most expensive home,” and Town & Country swooned over its gold-leafed fountain, marble statues and hedged labyrinth set in a 57-acre landscaped park. But for all the lavish details, one fact was missing: the identity of the buyer.
Now, it turns out that the paper trail leads to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the Saudi throne and the driving force behind a series of bold policies transforming Saudi Arabia and shaking up the Middle East.
The 2015 purchase appears to be one of several extravagant acquisitions — including a $500 million yacht and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting — by a prince who is leading a sweeping crackdown on corruption and self-enrichment by the Saudi elite and preaching fiscal austerity at home.
“He has tried to build an image of himself, with a fair amount of success, that he is different, that he’s a reformer, at least a social reformer, and that he’s not corrupt,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and author. “And this is a severe blow to that image.”
The story of Chateau Louis XIV, as pieced together through interviews and documents by The New York Times, unfolds like a financial whodunit, featuring a lawyer in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and a fixer for the very rich from the Mediterranean nation of Malta. Even Kim Kardashian made a cameo at the chateau, reportedly considering it for her wedding to Kanye West.