Kenyan ranch in the spotlight as widow seeks Sh900bn inheritance
Posted Saturday, May 22 2010 at 21:00
- 66,000-acre property is the private home of one of the world’s wealthiest families
A ranch in Kenya is at the heart of an inheritance tussle in Paris, France.
The 66,000-acre property, located 40 kilometres from Nanyuki town, is the private home of one of the world’s wealthiest families.
A widow in her mid-70s is at the centre of the court battle in Paris whose tale of fortune, misery, heartache, best-kept-business secrets and enormous wealth stretches from a nuclear bunker in New York to the plains stretching out of the foot of Mt Kenya.
Ms Sylvia Wildenstein, 76, the widow of art collector Daniel Wildenstein, has battled for eight years through Paris courts to secure rights to her inheritance, which she claims her stepsons had tricked her out of.
She continues her fight to lift the lid on the scope of the family’s fortune and art collection, thought to be one of the largest private collections in the world.
Art collections attract little interest in Africa but are enormously valued in Western countries. Fabulously wealthy. Stinking rich. Loaded. Flush. Moneyed. Opulent. Affluent.
Words fail to capture the extent of the wealth of the Wildenstein family, one of the world’s most powerful art-dealing dynasties, and it’s little wonder that Sylvia is seeking 8.6 billion British pounds (about Sh963 billion), according to last week’s edition of UK newspaper Sunday Times.
The money she seeks is about Sh100 billion more than the Kenya Government’s 2009/2010 budget.
Numerous accounts on the internet show that the family empire had been founded in Alsace in 1875 by Nathan Wildenstein, a cloth merchant who began to deal in valuable works of art.
Much of the family’s collections are said to be housed in a nuclear bunker in the Catskill mountains, New York state. The family kept a long tradition of secrets, running a close-knit business (works of art in Europe and America are adored for authenticity) until 1997 when an explosive divorce case involving one of the heirs to the multi-billion-dollar fortune spilt the beans.
Alec Wildenstein, a step-son of Sylvia, is the man whose divorce case opened the window into the tantalising secrets of the family heritage. He was born in Marseilles on August 5, 1940.
Saudi arms dealer
He married Swiss-born Jocelyne Perisse in 1978 in a ceremony at Las Vegas after the couple had been introduced a year before by Adnan Khashoggi, a multi-millionaire Saudi arms dealer, who had invited Jocelyne to stay at his Ol Pejeta Ranch in Kenya.
Wildenstein’s own estate — the 66,000-acre Ol Jogi Ranch — is nearby, and it was arranged that Jocelyne should join Alec on a dawn lion hunt. Within a year, he had proposed.
The couple moved between an apartment in Paris, a Caribbean beach estate, a château in France and a house in Lausanne, Switzerland. Their marital base was a five-storey New York town house which was also home to five pure-bred greyhound dogs and a rare monkey.
The couple turned the ranch into a private playground in the wild. In the ranch are giraffe, leopard, lion, white rhino and other big game, some imported from South Africa. It is also the only place in Africa with a bear.
Guests are generally expected to fly in, and it is not advertised on the Internet as with other exclusive resorts.
Refinements include the building of nearly 200 km of road, 55 artificial lakes, a swimming pool with rocks and waterfalls, a golf course, a racetrack, and a tennis court with floodlights — all maintained by a horde of 366 workers.