The "Zahia affair", named after the French-Algerian call girl who slept with the French footballers Ribéry and Benzema, resurfaced in France in February 2020 when a lawyer applied to reopen the case. His aim was to implicate the Genevan Yves Bouvier, basing his request on the statement of a certain Sarah. Heidi.news has pieced together the whole story and cross-checked it with hundreds of emails and text messages. Going well beyond Zahia's case, which garnered huge media coverage, what these documents reveal is a more problematic system of grooming and tempting young women with a career in reality TV, then "offering" them to friends and business partners of Yves Bouvier, many of whom were active in the art world.
She has a B driver’s licence and a personality she describes as “sunny, generous and solution-oriented, with the greatest of respect for the clients”. According to her CV, Sarah (not her real name) was born in Argentina in 1971, speaks five languages fluently, once worked in the business centre of a grand hotel in Kuwait, was a tourist guide in Tahiti, landlady of a café in Rome and then a translator and interpreter for several Italian authorities.
But then suddenly, in 2009, Sarah had nothing. So, showing all the resourcefulness she had acquired from operating on the shifting boundary between legal business and petty crime, she went to see the Geneva vice squad in July 2009 and registered to work as an escort.
Driven by her desire to extract herself from her tough financial situation, she contacted a man she met in Tahiti in the 1990s, a certain Florent C. He is originally from Annecy, a former French and European barefoot water-skiing champion, and directed several reports about his sport and others for Ushuaïa, a programme hosted by Nicolas Hulot on TF1. After a long sojourn in Tahiti, Florent C. started out as a glamour photographer in Paris’s B-movie scene. When Sarah got back in touch with him that summer, he was setting up an energy-drink company called Thirst Sin with the Genevan businessman Yves Bouvier, who, according to bank statements we have seen, invested one million Swiss francs in the enterprise between 2010 and 2013.
“I’m going to introduce you to someone who organizes parties,” he told Sarah. That someone was Yves Bouvier, whom she first saw in Geneva before being invited to meet him in Paris. The first party was held in October 2009 in an apartment in Rue Miromesnil, a stone’s throw from the Elysée Palace. What stuck in Sarah’s memory is a gilded clock in a dark living room with heavy blue-grey curtains, and a marble fireplace. Such objects are aide-memoires for mapping her restless life.
“I took part in five parties altogether,” she says. “One a month. There were five of us girls, most of us escorts from Geneva and Annecy.”
According to her account, Yves Bouvier was the master of ceremonies. Each time, he invited three or four of his friends or business associates. The highlight of the night was the arrival, around midnight, of “a17-year-old girl, Zahia”, thirty years younger than Bouvier. She would show up and “do a dance and a striptease in front of Bouvier and the others” before disappearing into one of the bedrooms with the Genevan. The other guests would then pick and choose between the remaining women. Later, Zahia would leave, as scantily clad as when she arrived, in the chauffeur-driven Mercedes “her prince”, as she called him, put at her disposal.
“We all got 2,000 euros, cash in hand,” Sarah says. “When we didn’t sleep at the flat, we went to Bob Benamou’s place in Neuilly.” Bob is Albert Benamou, a Paris gallery owner, friend and business partner of Yves Bouvier, in particular in the energy drink company. “Each evening we stayed at his place, one of us would have to sleep with him,” Sarah continues. “He’d shout out, ‘Who’s coming up?’ and one of us would sacrifice herself.”
When we interview him by phone, the gallery owner admitts that he “put up a photographer friend who brought along some models.” But he categorically denied having asked for any sort of payment in kind: “That’s rubbish! I let them stay here because Florent C. was an old friend, but I never asked for the slightest favour. I’ve no idea if Florent did, but the girls were all old enough to look after themselves.” Albert Benamou does concede that he attended some of Yves Bouvier’s dinners in Rue Miromesnil. “I went there a couple of times, but I left after dinner, before the girls arrived.”
Albert Benamou’s name cropped up later in the American financier and criminal paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s secret notebooks, as a member of his Parisian network.
“Epstein was a friend of mine, but that was 40 years back! I met him at Jimmy Goldsmith’s. I never saw him again. He must have kept my contact details because I owned a gallery,” he says in his defence. He also states that he hasn’t been in touch with Florent C. for at least five years.
Albert Benamou was a shareholder in Sin Spirit LLC, a sister company in the United States, in which Florent C. and Yves Bouvier also held stakes. The Swiss equivalent, STS IP Management, was run by the lawyer Alexandre Camoletti and Jean-Jacques Bouvier, Yves’s father. There was also a short-lived subsidiary in Singapore from 2012 to 2015.
Thirst Sin is a very strange company. It has now shut down, having been formerly domiciled in a townhouse in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. It seems to have reached its peak in 2013 when it was announced as an official partner of AS Monaco football club, whose chairman and majority shareholder is Dmitry Rybolovlev; Yves Bouvier and the Russian were still on good terms then. After that, posts on Thirst Sin’s social media accounts become few and far between and then abruptly stop — in January 2013 on Twitter, and in July 2014 on Facebook.
By then, Florent C., now aged 62, had moved to the States. He confirms to us that he “has known Sarah since she was 19 […] but I can’t understand her attitude now or her slanderous statements. I think she’s driven by an uncontrollable hatred for people.”
He adds that he never took part in any dinners at Yves Bouvier’s flat. As far as accommodation is concerned: “It’s possible that some of the young women were invited to dinner, because Mr Benamou is a very sociable person.”
However, we should listen again to Sarah, our resourceful escort who has no good memories of the Annecy-born glamour photographer either. “He [Florent] charged us a lot, a lot, for his services,” she later tells Yves Bouvier in a recorded conversation we have listened to. “I would have preferred to pay him a commission and not be at his beck and call. He’s a sick man. A sex addict. It isn’t funny. We had to do it or he’d get angry.” Yves Bouvier’s only response is silence.
Closely connected to magazines such as Entrevue or Public to whom he sold photos of nude women, Florent C. mainly scouted his models in Geneva and Annecy. “He told girls they’d become stars,” Sarah says.
The man himself contests this account, but he does admit knowing some of the girls at the dinners “because they’re from Annecy.”
As it happens, several of the escorts who attended Yves Bouvier’s Parisian parties did get a glimpse of the glittering world of showbiz or reality TV. One woman took part in Secret Story, a second in La Ferme Célébrités and a third was on L’Île de la Tentation, all broadcast by the same French TV station. Three of the women were employed to promote the Thirst Sin energy drink at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010.
Yves Bouvier provided financial support to those promoting these young women’s careers. On 9 September 2013 he transferred €41,000 to Frédéric Delliaux’s company Licencity, which produced a single by Marina (not her real name), one of the women who had attended the parties. The PR adviser opted not to respond to our questions.
Between 2010 and 2014 the Genevan businessman also transferred over €200,000 to Vincent Fischer, the former head of the PR agency Glamspeak and the Meili modelling agency, two companies used to promote the young women’s careers. He was sometimes invited to the libertine parties, according to Sarah, and was also a minority shareholder in some of Yves Bouvier’s Parisian apartments, according to documents we have seen. He gave no comment when contacted.
The system Florent C. put in place for Yves Bouvier is highly controversial in the #metoo era. Sarah’s revelations are backed up by statements by two other people who would rather remain anonymous. The objective was to recruit young women, tempt them with glittering career prospects, pay them for sex and “offer” them to friends and business associates, many of them active in the art world. Furthermore, we have seen an email confirming that the former water-skiing champion kept videos and photos of his recruits performing sexual acts with third parties. Was that to ensure that they wouldn’t escape? Florent C. states that he “never took any compromising pictures”.
The young women who stayed close to Florent C. and Yves Bouvier were indeed treated to a luxurious lifestyle, complete with limousines, fashion boutiques and travel, all organized through an agency in Geneva.
WTA World Travel Agency SA’s address is a letterbox in the foyer of the Hotel Kempinski on Quai du Mont-Blanc in Geneva, recently renamed Fairmont Grand Hotel. WTA is officially managed by Jacques Rigaud, a former Elf Aquitaine executive who is domiciled in Luanda and a close associate of Marc Francelet, the man who urged Yves Bouvier to invest in Angola (see Episode 4). The agency has a branch in Paris and another in Luanda, run by people close to the former Angolan president Dos Santos. Our investigations have revealed that Yves Bouvier paid no less than 2 million Swiss francs to WTA between April 2008 and December 2013. This money was used to cover the travel expenses of several young women and also to pay for their rented accommodation and even maintenance for one of the escorts.
But then an event beyond his control turned the Swiss businessman’s Parisian arrangements upside down. On 12 April 2010, investigators discover during a police raid on a Parisian bar where the aforementioned Zahia Dehar, the princess of Yves Bouvier’s parties, works that in the preceding two years she has had paid sexual relations with several players from the French football team, including Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema. This unleashes a massive scandal. The ensuing trial results in guilty verdicts against several men charged with procuring sex, one of them a certain Abou Sofiane who is sentenced to two years in prison. He makes use of this time to write a little-publicized book entitled Zahia Killed Me, in which he accuses the young woman of fabricating her testimony against him to protect her benefactors. According to Sofiane’s lawyer, those benefactors were Yves Bouvier and Florent C., neither of whom was questioned by the French police during the investigation. Yves Bouvier and Florent C. vigorously deny these allegations.
And yet the French agency responsible for surveillance of prostitution and repression of procuring found the following text message in Zahia’s phone, addressed to Yves Bouvier in March 2010, a few days after she turned 18: “My prince, I’m in bed. You can come over. We’ll do whatever you want. You decide, I have no say. I hope you’ll be pleased with me.”
As so often, Yves Bouvier showed the true measure of his genius in a moment of adversity. The fear that Zahia might divulge information about his Parisian parties could have paralyzed him, but instead he pulled off a feat of magic: he transformed Zahia’s image by turning the escort into a goddess.
Bouvier’s loyal lieutenant Marc Francelet is in charge of the operation. “Yves was in Singapore at the time, so he left things entirely to me,” he says. He organizs a sensational interview in Paris-Match, which showed Zahia off at her best, under her full name, and allowed her to present her version of events.
Frédéric Delliaux takes over, arranging interviews with the press, while the artist Patrick Hourcade introduces Zahia to his friend Karl Lagerfeld and then to the photographers Pierre et Gilles. Yves Bouvier bankrolls this successful PR campaign. Between 2010 and 2012, according to documents we have seen, he pays €125,000 to Daniel Vaconsin, Zahia’s lawyer, and €150,000 between 2010 and 2015 to Patrick Hourcade, who is installed as the young woman’s “designer”.
In February 2012 Zahia creates a stir at the Palais de Chaillot. She is acknowledged and admired. On 15 February of the same year, Frédéric Delliaux writes on his website: “Is Zahia our Elizabeth II?” (the article has since been deleted).
The beautiful young woman is now an artist, a lingerie designer and an icon, and Yves Bouvier never stopped cultivating her, putting one of his flats in Paris at her disposal. He has reportedly done the same in London, in the posh surroundings of Knightsbridge, where Zahia lives today. On 10 December 2014 she also received a 20% share in one of Yves Bouvier’s apartments on Avenue Vion-Whitcomb in Paris.
Did all the attention he paid to Zahia make some of the other women at the Parisian parties jealous? That’s possible. True or false, the fact is that when Yves Bouvier was arrested in February 2015, some of those women came back to haunt him.
Sarah was one of them. Judging that her escort services were undervalued and piqued that the Genevan did not deliver on her other projects, she told the journalist Mélanie Delattre from the magazine Le Point about the private parties Yves Bouvier organized in Paris. The article was published on 21 May 2015. Two weeks later, Sarah emailed Yves Bouvier to tell him that she was the journalist’s source.
“Come and see me when you get back to find a solution to your advantage,” the Genevan shot back, following up eight minutes later with a second message: “How much did the journalist offer you?”
He had the WTA travel agency book Room 103 for her from 10–16 June 2015 at the extremely chic Genevan hotel La Réserve, at a cost of 7,085 francs.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher. Yves Bouvier had sued Le Point through his lawyer in Paris, Luc Brossollet. A court hearing was scheduled for 17 June, and Sarah had been summoned to testify. If he could persuade the former escort to withdraw her statement, there was a chance that the magazine would be convicted of libel, and so he pulled out all the stops.
“He came into my room the first morning,” Sarah recalls. “He was unshaven. He took off his trousers and unbuttoned his white shirt, led me into the bathroom, turned on the tap to drown out a possible recording and started crying, like a little lamb on its way to slaughter. He kept repeating, ‘Why are you doing this to me? They could send me to prison!’ I’d never seen him in such a terrible state. I felt such pity for him!”
Yves Bouvier came back the next day, accompanied by the detective Mario Brero (see Episode 5) whom he introduced as the head of his “task force”. Brero put the following deal to the now 44-year-old woman: if she writes to the judge in Paris to say she made everything up because of her “novelist tendencies”, she will be given a job “and a good salary”.
Sarah was tempted, but also racked with remorse at the idea of letting the Le Point journalist down.
“You’re worried about her future rather than about your own?” the detective asks. His intuition was spot on. “What did she give you in return for your information?”
Sarah ended up accepting. At 4.03 p.m. on 13 June, Mario Brero instructed one of his IT cracks to delete the entire exchange between Sarah and the journalist from Sarah’s emails. Sarah didn’t sleep well that night. At 10.50 p.m. she wrote an email to Mario Brero and Yves Bouvier: “I feel so bad for not keeping my word for the first time in my life . . . How can I look at myself in the mirror now?”
Mario Brero answered an hour later: “Not keeping one’s word in a good cause is an act of bravery . . . It’s to be respected, and I respect you.”
When we contact him, the detective doesn’t deny this whole episode, but he suggests that there was never any discussion of employing Sarah at his agency, and that she was instead more or less reliant on Yves Bouvier’s generosity. Bouvier states that he never employed Sarah in any way.
Deprived of its witness, Le Point was found guilty on 27 July 2015 but won on appeal in November 2016 on the strength of certain aspects of the article. The final victory, however, was Yves Bouvier’s on 26 September 2018, when the courts overruled the previous decision, deciding that Yves Bouvier was not a public figure in 2015 and that he did not play a preponderant role in the sex procurement affair.
Nonetheless, June 2015 was to mark the start of a new phase in the former escort’s career, and she finally got to show off her many talents. She had to hit the ground running because all kinds of fires needed putting out immediately.
In the months that followed, Sarah carried out several assignments for Yves Bouvier, and they give some sense of the scale of the ongoing operation. She began by dousing the aspirations of a certain Christy (not her real name) who took part in the “private dinners” in Paris and was demanding one million euros from the Genevan to keep quiet. Sarah had no qualms about alerting Geneva airport on a false pretext to intimidate the young woman as she was preparing to catch her flight. This had the desired effect, and the threat was over.
Sarah also tailed several people suspected of being on Rybolovlev’s side, sending Yves Bouvier regular updates, which Heidi.news has seen. Two of the most prominent among them are an entrepreneur called Christian B., now domiciled in Monaco and in close contact with Dmitry Rybolovlev, and the Genevan property developer Abdallah Chatila, who was supposedly in touch with the lawyer Tetiana Bersheda, the Russian oligarch’s closest colleague.
According to minutes taken by the Monaco police, Mr Chatila told Mrs Bersheda of his astonishment at Yves Bouvier’s fortune, “which reportedly allowed him to buy a private jet for almost €60 million, land worth €40 million in Geneva and invest roughly €200 million in free ports.” Yves Bouvier was beside himself with rage because he suspected Abdallah Chatila of tipping off the Russian camp. Mr Chatila has refused to comment on this episode.
Sarah mentions being given a different phone every month by Mario Brero who then made sure that all the calls are deleted. A formidable seductress, she travelled to London and Luxembourg to investigate the companies that managed Dmitry Rybolovlev’s private jets.
She was fearless. In September 2015 she slept with a man at the Hôtel Peninsula on Avenue Kléber in Paris in order to get hold of his DNA because he had been identified as the father of a child whose mother, a Genevan escort of African heritage, claimed it was Yves Bouvier’s. The mother was demanding cash in return for her silence too.
The child’s DNA was already in the possession of Alp Services, who had booked the room at the Hôtel Peninsula for Sarah. The WTA travel agency reserved another room in the same hotel, a few floors up, where Yves Bouvier stayed the same night under the pseudonym of Esposito. He was kept abreast of developments downstairs by text until the moment Sarah entered his room in triumph the next morning. Mission accomplished — she was carrying a “condom full of joy”.
The Genevan took a considerable risk by staying in Paris, as there was a French warrant for his arrest, granted by judge Isabelle Rich-Flament on 25 June 2015 following a claim brought in March 2015 by Picasso’s step-daughter for “receiving stolen goods”. Bouvier is suspected of having bought in 2013 — and then sold on to Dmitry Rybolovlev — two Picassos spirited away from Catherine Hutin-Blay, the master’s last wife’s daughter. Bouvier was finally questioned on 14 September 2015. The case is ongoing.
Every one of Sarah’s missions seemed to end in success, and the former shipper congratulated her each time. On 6 July 2015 he sent her an email which read: “A big hello to my spy from Singapore.” Same thing in a mail from him dated 26 Jul, which she has guarded closely: “Wow, you’re a superspy!” And yet Sarah had begun a practice that would cost her dear: she was stealing mail from the letterboxes of the people in her sights.
Back to Zahia. Her life returned to the spotlight in February 2020. Yassine Bouzrou, Abou Sofiane’s lawyer, tried to get his client’s case reopened. This much-publicized lawyer made an application for review to the Paris courts, but the document was leaked and ended up in the hands of several French journalists, in particular reporters from RTL radio, Le Parisien newspaper and L’Obs magazine. Philippe Valent, one of Yves Bouvier’s lawyers, responded with a press release on 24 February: “These false accusations are yet another instance of the orchestrated manoeuvres by third parties that Mr Bouvier has endured in the past. They reek of repulsive old Russian methods.”
Questioned shortly beforehand by Heidi.news about his relationship with Florent C., Yves Bouvier declares: “He owned a drinks company I invested in, that’s it.” Regarding Sarah’s statements, Yves Bouvier announces that he “gives no credence to them,” before adding, “She never worked for me” and that he views her as an agent in the service of his opponent, Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Zahia also reacted in a press release put out on 24 February by her lawyer, Anne-Marie Pecoraro: “Miss Zahia Dehar is currently the subject of slander and accusations from a supposed testimony that has no basis in fact. She will use all legal means to protect her rights. Miss Zahia Dehar is shocked by these allegations, whose aim is to damage her reputation and her honour. She firmly disputes the charges and categorically denies the allegations accusing Mr Yves Bouvier of sexual procurement.”