Israeli billionaire buys UK's most expensive new home

LONDON (Reuters) - An Israeli diamond billionaire has bought the most expensive new property ever sold in Britain -- a $70 million home with a bullet-proof front door costing $100,000, real estate dealers said on Tuesday.

The most expensive new property ever sold in Britain is seen in this undated handout photograph received in London on January 8, 2008. REUTERS/Glentree International/Handout

The seven-bedroom house in the exclusive north London district of Hampstead boasts a $1.5 million stone staircase constructed using 150-year-old carving techniques and an indoor swimming pool with gold-plated mosaic tiles.

The Palladian-style home also features a gym, sauna, ballroom and cinema, a private hair salon and a one-ton bathroom basin carved from a single piece of white Iranian onyx.

It has been bought by Lev Leviev, a 51-year-old Israeli businessman best known for his diamond trading company and who is estimated to be worth $6.5 billion.

A London property agent who asked not to be named said $70 million was the highest ever paid for a new property in Britain. The most paid for any property is believed to be $128 million spent by steel billionaire Lakshmi Mittal for a London mansion.

A spokeswoman for Leviev, Israel’s richest man, confirmed the purchase and said he would be moving to London shortly. He is expected to move with his wife and two of his nine children.

Leviev, a reclusive billionaire who emigrated to Israel from Uzbekistan in 1971 without a penny to his name, also has homes in Israel, New York and Moscow, but is thought to favor a move to London because of high taxes in Israel.

He recently launched a company in London and opened a flagship diamond store in exclusive Bond Street, competing directly with De Beer’s, the South African-based company that has traditionally been the world’s largest diamond dealer.

Leviev’s decision to spend millions on London property comes despite a downturn in Britain’s once red-hot market. After nearly 10 years of steady growth, prices have tapered in recent months and are even expected to fall in the coming year.

His move to London follows in the footsteps of more high-profile billionaires, including his friend Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

Once installed in his new home, Leviev will be protected not only by the bullet-proof front door but by 25 security cameras and a high-tech alarm system that can be controlled remotely -- from a yacht in the Caribbean if necessary.

In his front garden is a topiary bush that cost $40,000 to shape, and should he get cold there is a $200,000 hand-carved stone fireplace in the living room.

Additional reporting by Avida Landau in Jerusalem, Editing by Matthew Jones