Claude Dray (left) with his wife Simone and Francisco Salgueiro at a reception in Miami Beach in 2008. Mr Dray has been found shot dead in his Paris mansion
Claude Dray owned the famous Art Deco style National Hotel in South Beach, Miami
A billionaire French hotelier has been shot dead 'in a professional hit' in the Paris mansion he bought to showcase his Art Deco collection.
Claude Dray, 76, was found with three bullet holes in the neck in Neuilly-sur-Seine, the Paris suburb where President Nicolas Sarkozy built his career and still owns property.
He was found by his butler dressed only in a T-shirt and shorts, in his bedroom at 9am on Tuesday.
Bullet cartridges were found next to Mr Dray, with detectives saying they were fired from a pistol which was around 15 years old. No weapon was found.
There were no signs of a struggle and nothing was stolen from the palatial 'Villa Madrid’, which is considered to be one of the most secure houses the French capital.
Police said it had the hallmarks of a ‘professional hit.'
Somebody got in and fired three bullets into the victim's neck,’ said one detective at the scene, adding that a silencer had likely been used as domestic staff heard nothing.
His wife, Simone, was in the US, where four years ago her husband bought the famous National Hotel in South Beach, Miami.
Mr Dray, one of the most prominent Jews in France, also owned the Hotel de Paris in St Tropez, one of the most popular celebrity institutions on the French Riviera, as well as a string of other hotels around the world.
He had bought Villa Madrid in 1990 as he and his wife built up a vast Art Deco collection of furniture and other objects, which featured some 25 pieces by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann alone.
Most of it was sold at auction in 2007, fetching a record-breaking £55million. The couple said all the proceeds were for their four daughters and seven grandchildren.
Mr Dray had been the subject of threats in the past, and his home, which was equipped with anti-intruder measures including cameras and infra-red alarms, was regularly surrounded by police and private security guards.
The most recent extortion threats were in 2009, into which the Paris Prosecutor's Office opened an inquiry.
An autopsy on Mr Dray’s body was today being carried out at the Medical-Legal institute in Paris, with results expected to be made public within the next few days.
Mr Dray was born and brought up in Oran, Algeria, before founding the Cidotel hotel chain in the 1960s.
Mr Sarkozy was the mayor of Neuilly for many years, and built up close friendships with its super-rich residents, who, along with Mr Dray, include Liliane Bettencourt, the L'Oreal heiress who is France's wealthiest woman. Mr Sarkozy has lived in Neuilly for most of his life.
He still owns flats there, but now divides his time between his quarters at the Elysee Palace and a town house belonging to his third wife, the Italian heiress Carla Bruni.
The Art Deco design style began in Paris in the 1920s, and soon spread abroad to countries including Britain and America.