04/30/2012

M-KATE: not the British Royal Family

Over the past few weeks an Airbus A319 has paid several overnight visits to Geneva. I thought that this Isle of Man Registration might be related to Harry and Kate, but no!

There are many private jet aircraft registered in the Isle of Man which come to Geneva, but very few are of the size of an Airbus A319, capable of carrying over 100 passengers. This one, registered as M-KATE, was one of the ones for which the registration might be personal (many of the M- registrations are personal), so I tried to find out more.

It turns out that the aircraft belongs to a company called Sophar Property Holding BVI (British Virgin Islands, I believe). The history of this company is somewhat mysterious, because some years ago it was bought by the Russian potash mining company called Uralkali, the head of Uralkali being a Russian oligarch called Dmitry Rybolovlev. At the time that it was bought, its only assets were an option to buy two private jets: a much smaller Falcon and this A319.

Somehow, when Dmitry lost his position in Uralkali, it seems that he was rather attached to these jets, so apparently he bought them back (effectively buying Sophar Property Holding at the value of the two aircraft). If this is so, then he can travel around in either of them.

The three overnight visits of M-KATE to Geneva this year have been on 15/16 March, 20/21 March and 28/29 April. Data from an aircraft tracking web site appears to show that this last visit came from Zurich and then went to Nice. Not exactly long flights from an aircraft which is said to have installed extra long-range fuel tanks.

Mr Rybolovlev appears to be another of the eastern European rich people who like to acquire Football clubs in Europe: he was at the head of a consortium which bought a controlling interest im Monaco FC last year. Another Russion, Roman Abramovich, has long owned Chelsea FC, and will have a prime seat for the European Champions League final shortly. Other East European adventurers have been less successful, including in Switzerland (Neuchatel Xamax!).

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