The cursed castle of Yvelines: how crooks turned a jewel into a ruin

By Renaud Vilafranca
Published on

May 9, 24 at 6:16

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Centuries of history contemplate the curious who venture there. Is Acqueville Castle, in Villennes-sur-Seine (Yvelines), about to rise from its ashes after several decades of abandonment ?

This little gem of local heritage, four centuries old, was sold at auction for €451,000, on May 2, 2024, following the judicial liquidation of the company that owns a large part of the premises. It is also being sued by several investors claiming to have been cheated by yet another aborted restoration operation.

Years of neglect

This large T-shaped castle, nestled in a nine hectare estate comprising fountain, pond, chapel and outbuildings with swimming pool, now resembles a field of ruins. The fault lies in years of neglect.

No longer monitored for a long time, this ghostly wasteland, many times looted, tagged and vandalizedattracts urban explorers, videographers and more or less well-intentioned people.

“The graves of the former owners were desecrated in the crypt. »

Olivier Daeschner, deputy mayor of Villennes-sur-Seine in charge of this file

Built in 1598

Built in 1598 on behalf of a local lord, this castle transformed and enlarged over time, has been successively the property of nobles and powerful people, according to successions and auctions.

In 1975, then home to a high-ranking military family, it hosted the filming of Bourgeois follies, by Claude Chabrol, as reported by the local history society on its website. “ The people of Villenn know little about it, because it is hidden behind high walls, underlines Michel Kohn, president of Mémoire de Villennes. It can be seen from the railway line and the banks. »

An empty shell since 2004

In the 1980s, it was bought by a Villenn industrialist, renovated, then converted into private club. The activity stopped in 2004. Six years later, to pay off debts, the estate was sold for €4.5 million to a first developer in order to turn it into an 80-room hotel residence, with various facilities.

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The Château d’Acqueville (Yvelines), which has not been monitored for years, is subject to intrusions and damage very regularly. ©Renaud Vilafranca

Deceived investors

The company leading the project did not haveno initial bet. She financed the purchase by reselling lots in the establishment to individuals (executives, young couples, retirees), for sums of up to €200,000. A rental investment, supposed to bring an income to buyers.

Everything didn’t go as planned. The rehabilitation failed. THE thirty-four investors, who between them paid out around €5.5 million, never received a cent. On the contrary, they accumulated debts and troubles. United in an association, they took legal action.

“Shattered Lives”

“We were taken for a ride. They had finished two apartments to show us around and we could release the funds, explains a victim, originally from the Rhône-Alpes region. We have lost a lot, these are broken lives. »

“One of the co-owners is ruined, he can no longer pay his medical expenses. We spend our lives dealing with banks and lawyers. There are nights when I don’t sleep. »

A victim
The estate of the Château d’Acqueville (Yvelines) notably houses a chapel, under which is a crypt, desecrated a few years ago. ©Renaud Vilafranca

Prison sentences handed down

One and a half million euros were diverted altogether. Five men – the two managers, the architect, the auditor and the foreman – were convicted in this case, at first instance, then on September 7, 2023, by the Paris Court of Appeal, for “breach of trust », “complicity in fraud”, “evasion of payment of tax”, “abuse of corporate property” and “non-denunciation of criminal acts”.

Sentences of up to two years in prison were imposed. THE alleged mastermind of the ganga Marseille businessman who financed other projects with investors’ money, no longer has the right to practice in real estate.

“He was banned from banking. This affair was a real gas plant. They went about it with bravado and were as dishonest as they were incompetent. They are real estate failures. »

Me Eric Rocher-Thomas, lawyer for some of the co-owners

A second promoter joins the dance

To the liquidation of the company in 2014, a second developer bought his share in the area. To finish the work, this new player in the file raised funds of €2 to €3 million from real estate investment intermediaries mostly based in Switzerland.

They were then guaranteed a 10% yield, before the resale of the property, within three years, which would have allowed them to recover their investment. He never managed to come to an agreement with the co-owners and no groundbreaking has been given since.

Several complaints filed against the second promoter

This promoter (whom we were unable to contact), in turn placed in compulsory liquidation, is the subject of several complaints and presumed innocent. “One of my clients invested, personally and as an investment agent, in what appears to be a fraudulent scheme,” asserts Me François Buthiau, lawyer for one of the plaintiffs.

This castle is not classified and therefore does not benefit from protective measure particular. “It’s dramatic,” said Pierre-François Degand, opposition elected official, who recently alerted the planning commission to the subject.

“The town hall or the departmental council could have carried out a project to safeguard this heritage. »

François Degand, elected opposition member of the municipal council of Villennes-sur-Seine

A new “serious and honest” buyer according to the town hall

The new buyer, received this week by the mayor, wishes to develop a hotel activity including a walking area open to all. Will he break the curse that has surrounded this castle for ages and will he manage to restore it to its former splendor?

“He seems serious and honest. He is already planning to secure the premises to prevent intrusions, assures Olivier Daeschner. If he wants to carry out his project successfully, he will have to reach an agreement with the co-owners and raise the funds necessary for the work. »

Total cost of the operation: between €12 and €15 million. Unless there is a last minute bidding war, the sale will be signed in the coming days and the town hall will have a period of time to decide whether or not to pre-empt the premises.

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