There’s something of a “separated at birth” quality to Donald Trump and Patrick Diter. Both made their fortunes in real estate. Both have a brazen if not confrontational and litigious style. Both like their homes to be palatial, faux–Italianate Renaissance Mar-a-Lago splendoramas. And both received horrible news from the courts the second week of December.
In Trump’s case, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear his Texan queen’s gambit to overthrow the presidential election. And in Diter’s case, la Cour de Cassation, France’s highest judicial court, upheld a previous ruling in the appellate courts that the $69 million “château” he illegally constructed—without proper authorization or respect for zoning laws—on 17 acres outside the Provençal village of Grasse must be wiped off the face of the earth, and the countryside restored to its original state.
The court ruling ends a 15-year standoff between Diter and a consortium of neighbors who never took kindly to his frenzied construction of 30,000 square feet of minarets, swimming pools, cloisters, cupolas, hotel-like suites, and heliports (two), all of which went far beyond the footprint of the 2,000-square-foot farmhouse that sat on the site when he bought it, in 2000.
Nor did they appreciate when Diter pimped his palace out as a wedding destination for oligarchs and Bollywood stars who cranked the 132-speaker sound system for nights on end; or when production crews were bused in to shoot the British TV drama Riviera. Nor did the nearby town of Auribeau take kindly to the 2,000-foot driveway Diter bulldozed though an environmentally protected hillside, which on rainy days now becomes a Mulholland-type aqueduct that floods the town’s outskirts.
The court ruling ends a 15-year standoff between Diter and a consortium of neighbors.
Unlike Trump, Diter has faced his moment of vérité and is now obliged to take the wrecking ball to his illegally built pride and joy by June 2022 or risk paying a fine of $600 per day for every day it stands afterward.
Like Trump, though, Diter seems to be caught in his own form of denial. Philippe Soussi, Diter’s lawyer, hinted they were even ready to now take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“This decision is not the epilogue of this affair,” Soussi said. “Even the idea of demolishing Château Diter, which is an architectural masterpiece, is unimaginable and foolish. We’re going to fight to avoid this.”
The attorney for the neighbors, Virginie Lachaut-Dana, disagrees. She contends that “la Cour de Cassation’s decision is definitive under French law and cannot be overturned by a European court.”
Paul Euzière, a member of the Grasse city council and longtime thorn in Diter’s side, doesn’t buy Diter’s human-rights plea.
“That’s ridiculous. Nobody has violated Patrick Diter’s human rights. His rights have been taken into account every step of the way during this legal journey.”
Euzière also doesn’t believe the developer’s sob story (made to a criminal court in 2017) that he was simply a dreamer, caught up in his vision. As he told the court, “I flew too high and [the town] wanted to cut my wings”; nor does he accept Diter’s claim which Euzière alleges he heard in a court in 2017, that the château, despite its work-permit blemishes, brought jobs and revenue to the town to the tune of $60 million dollars.
Euzière argues, however, that this is impossible, given that Diter never registered his château as a business, and therefore could not have been taxed as one. “You can not collect taxes on something that technically doesn’t exist,” said Euziere.
In addition to its ruling, the Court of Cassation also issued Diter fines totaling $550,000—both to him personally and to his real-estate companies.
So as Donald Trump now sits in his faux Florida château, brooding on how he can return to power, his brother from another mother, Patrick Diter, confronts a restoration of a different sort: after the tiled floors and marbled porticoes and infinity pools and all the tons of crap are carted off, he must, as per the court’s ruling, restore the landscape to what it was before he ravaged it. If only the American political landscape could be so easily restored.
John von Sothen is the author of Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French