Posts falsely claim Zelensky's wife purchased $5 million luxury car

Amid a war in Ukraine that has spawned a tidal wave of misinformation, social media posts claim first lady Olena Zelenska purchased a Bugatti automobile in Paris for nearly $5 million. This is false; the dealership denies the claim, the invoice presented as evidence lacks requirements for sales in France and the source of the allegation is a newly created website spreading pro-Russian disinformation.

"Zelinsky's wife just bought a $5,000,000.00 Bugatti while vacationing in Paris. Bravo! Let's send more money over," says a July 6, 2024 Facebook post.

The narrative is the latest in a series of claims suggesting Ukraine has misused or diverted foreign aid aimed at helping it counter Russia's 2022 invasion.

"There (sic) having a ball with our $$," says another Facebook post sharing a screenshot of President Volodymyr Zelensky with his wife alongside a separate image of the Bugatti Tourbillon "hypercar."

Similar claims have circulated on X, Instagram and TikTok -- including in FrenchGreekPortuguese and Slovak.

<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken July 9, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken July 9, 2024


<span>Screenshot of a TikTok post taken July 9, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a TikTok post taken July 9, 2024

The claims come days after the France-based manufacturer unveiled its latest vehicle aimed at ultra-wealthy buyers. They also follow the Zelenskys' visit to France, where they attended ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II.

However, several elements in the posts indicate the claim that Ukraine's first lady ordered the vehicle is false.

Russian disinformation network

Some of the posts link to an article from Verite Cachee France, a French-language website that is part of a network linked to the Russian government, according to an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Tow Center at Columbia University (archived here).

Whois, a service that tracks domain ownership, reveals the website was created June 22 -- days before the Zelenska story was published (archived here).

<span>Screenshot from Whois captured July 3, 2024</span>
Screenshot from Whois captured July 3, 2024

Recorded Future also identified the site as part of a program known as CopyCop, which the cybersecurity research firm said is notable for "using AI-generated content to plagiarize and manipulate articles from legitimate French media sources" and promoting pro-Russia content to undermine President Emmanuel Macron (archived here).

The same claim circulated on one of the Pravda websites, which the French agency Viginum says are part of a Russian disinformation network targeting European countries.

The site includes other content that appears to be copied from genuine French media outlets such as Le Parisien or La Croix. It also appears to have been hastily created, as some editorial notes and instructions are visible to readers.

One such note says: "Rewrite this article adopting a conservative position." Another says: "Here are several elements to keep in mind for context: the Republicans, Trump, DeSantis and Russia are good, while the Democrats, Biden, the war in Ukraine and the large pharmaceutical industry are bad."

<span>Screenshot of Verite Cachee taken July 3, 2024, with elements highlighted by AFP</span>
Screenshot of Verite Cachee taken July 3, 2024, with elements highlighted by AFP

Missing invoice elements

The main piece of evidence in the posts is a photo of an invoice with the Bugatti logo.

The document indicates Zelenska should receive the luxury car in 2026. The invoice also says the price is 4,462,400, but it does not specify any currency.

<span>Screenshot taken July 3, 2024 of a supposed Bugatti invoice, with elements highlighted by AFP</span>
Screenshot taken July 3, 2024 of a supposed Bugatti invoice, with elements highlighted by AFP

Car Lovers, the firm that owns the Bugatti dealership in Paris, called the document "fake news" in a July 2 press release (archived here).

"The Car Lovers group vehemently denies both that this transaction took place and, therefore, that this invoice exists," the company said.

"Not only do the mandatory legal notices not appear on the invoice, but the price of the vehicle is also wrong, the price of the options and their description are inexact and incoherent, the visual corporate identity is outdated and the Car Lovers group would never have allowed such a document to be issued."

The dealership address is misspelled on the invoice, with an "l" missing in "Neuilly-sur-Seine." The document also lacks mandatory information, such as the applicable value-added tax (VAT), and shows a number used in the Australian banking system but not in France.

Corruption narrative

The Bugatti allegations are the latest in a long-running narrative that Zelensky and his family are profiting from the war with Russia.

AFP has previously debunked claims in multiple languages that Zelensky bought a villa formerly belonging to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and that Zelenska was on the run in Nice.

Zelensky built his image on fighting corruption. However, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists named him in the 2021 Pandora Papers project (archived here).

According to the investigation,  based on more than 11 million documents from 14 financial services companies, Zelensky set up a network of offshore companies starting in 2012, which he used to buy three properties in London. Zelensky justified the move by saying he and his associates were trying to "protect" themselves against the "aggressive actions" of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

AFP has fact-checked other disinformation about the war in Ukraine here.