Feds move to seize Mountain of Beverly Hills
The DOJ alleges massive property was bought with money embezzled from the Kuwaiti people
UPDATED, Tuesday, July 21, 12:15 p.m.: As if the drama behind the Mountain of Beverly Hills couldn’t get any more convoluted, here come the Feds.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Friday to seize the property, alleging it was purchased with part of $105 million embezzled from the Kuwaiti government by three high-ranking officials in Kuwait’s Ministry of Defense.
The DOJ alleges the money was stolen between 2009 and 2016. Those officials allegedly transferred the money out of the National Bank of Kuwait and ultimately got it over to Victorino Noval, who used it to buy or improve the Mountain.
The “pilfered funds” also bought three homes in Beverly Hills, an apartment in Westwood, a private jet, yacht, Lamborghini car, and around $40,000 worth of memorabilia of boxer Manny Pacquiao, according to the DOJ.
Noval became involved with the Mountain property around 2010 through his limited liability company Secured Capital Partners. Two years later, he became a shareholder of the company that owned the Mountain, partnering with Atlanta developer Charles “Chip” Dickens, who bought the property in a no-money-down deal in 2004 for $23.75 million.
The property ended up racking up debt and hit the market in 2018 with a record asking price of $1 billion. The $200 million in debt on the property kept investors away and it ultimately sold back to the lender, a trust for the late Herbalife founder Mark Hughes, for just $100,000 last August.
The federal suit does not name the Kuwaiti officials. However, former Kuwaiti Defense Minister Khaled Al-Sabah previously said he invested in the Mountain property with Noval using his personal fortune, but no government funds. Al-Sabah is a member of the Kuwaiti royal family.
Al-Sabah sued Noval in October for $488 million, claiming that Noval duped him into thinking he would get a 50 percent cut of his investment into the Mountain, but instead used that money to finance a “lavish and extravagant lifestyle.”
In response to the DOJ lawsuit, a lawyer for Al-Sabah said that “any suggestion that my client was involved in any illegal activity is incorrect,” according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, an attorney for Noval claims that he vetted the foreign national who transferred the funds to him as a member of the Kuwaiti royal family.
“Any improprieties relating to funds wired to the United States would be something that my client would have no way of knowing about nor was it shared with him,” Ronald Richards said. “My client has no need nor interest in retaining any improperly distributed funds.”
The Mountain is currently on the market for an undisclosed sum with New York-based Cushman & Wakefield investment-sales broker Doug Harmon. Some of Los Angeles’ most prominent residential brokers have tried to sell the property without luck over the year.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Noval purchased the Mountain property in partnership with Dickens in 2004. Dickens bought the property in 2004 and Noval became involved with the property around 2010.