German-based Kempinski Hotels S.A., Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, is joining forces with the Russian-Montenegrin company Soho Hotels to jointly manage the first 5-star hotel in Bar, a coastal town in southern Montenegro.
The Soho Hotels & Resort development is located in Sutomore, in a small bay on the Adriatic Sea. The area has been declared a “biosphere reserve” of Europe by UNESCO, meaning an area of ecological interest set aside for sustainable development with community involvement.
The resort is to cover more than 25 acres of shore land, with a half-mile of sand and gravel beaches. A wide variety of tropical and subtropical trees and flowers grow along its steep slopes and beachfront areas. According to its glossy new website, it is being developed on the grounds of the former Inex Zlatna Obala hotel.
The main investor in the project? Russian banker Alexander Grigoriev.
Grigoriev served on the board of directors of two of the banks involved in a massive money laundering scheme that moved some US$ 20 billion out of Russia for corrupt politicians and organized crime. Grigoriev said, however, he was not involved in banking-level decisions and left the banks when he realized they were not sound enterprises.
Grigoriev established Soho Hotels last year, winning a tender in Belgrade for €11.8 million (US$ 15.7 million). Although he has opened a Montenegrin office, staffers who answer the phones profess not to know who he is.
When a reporter from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) called to seek Grigoriev’s comments, a Montenegrin employee passed the line to a Russian-speaking colleague who wouldn’t identify herself. After the reporter asked for Grigoriev, the woman said, “I don’t know who Alexander Grigoriev is.”
Grigoriev bought the Inex Zlatna Obala property at a public auction on May 31, 2013, paying the starting price of €11.8 million—about one-third of the original price advertised in June 2008 when it first went on sale. The property had failed to find a buyer until the auction was held.
Grigoriev later transferred 10 percent ownership to Soho Hotel’s executive director, Rade Vujacic.
Vujacic is the son of a Montenegrin real estate investor who has in the past partnered with Russians in other real-estate investments and primarily sells to Russians.
At the end of May 2014, Vujacic told the Montenegrin daily newspaper Vijesti that the value of the Soho Hotels project is “just under €100 million” (US$ 133 million).
“A draft contract has already been prepared and agreed upon, and our and their team of experts are now negotiating the tiniest details on the main contract, which if all goes as planned will be completed in early September,” he told the newspaper.
Kempinski is to take over the management of the hotel and will be in charge of attracting guests and running marketing campaigns, and is already providing technical support and managing the construction.
The company is building what it claims will be the most luxurious resort on the Mediterranean, with 58 villas and a five-star hotel with 150 rooms, two spa centers, a private beach, as well as three outdoor and two indoor pools. The complex will include shops and boutiques, a yacht club and marina, sports facilities and a playground for children, along with a tennis club, restaurants and cafes.
Until late last year, a mention of Macedonia in the halls of power in Washington, DC, would most likely elicit only shrugs.