France drops charges against Russian oligarch Kerimov

Russian billionaire and senator from Dagestan Suleyman Kerimov has been pardoned by the French justice system, and can leave his villa on the French Riviera, where he has been under house arrest since the end of last year.

Kerimov, who was suspected of money laundering through a series of deals to purchase property in France, has had all the charges against him dropped, his attorney Nikita Sychev told Interfax. Kerimov’s passport will soon be returned to him, and he will be allowed to return to Russia, the attorney noted.

The French law enforcement authorities no longer have any claims against Kerimov, two sources close to the billionaire confirmed to Vedomosti newspaper.

Before becoming a member of the Federation Council, Kerimov owned Polyus, Russia’s largest gold mining company, and in 2018 he held the 20th place on the Forbes wealthiest Russians list, with $6.4 billion.

Instead of being the accused, Kerimov is now a witness. The reason why such a decision was made was not specified.

The Nice prosecutor’s office accused the senator of illegally bringing €750 million into France, some of which was stored in briefcases with €20 million in each.

According to prosecutor Jean-Michel Prêtre from Nice, the funds crossed the border and arrived at the Alpes-Maritimes department to await subsequent legalization.
The money laundering took place through an operation to purchase four villas on the French Riviera, which the investigation believed Kerimov had bought using fronts.

For some of the deals, the price was understated: for example, one of the residences was bought for a stated price of €37 million, although the previous owners had advertised it for €150 million. The investigation believes that in addition to the declared amount, the sellers received tens of millions of euros in cash.

A €400 million tax claim was filed against Kerimov, i.e, the amount which the prosecutor’s office believes he failed to pay to the French treasury.

Kerimov’s representatives insisted that he has no property in France. The billionaire paid €40 million in bail in order to remain under house arrest instead of in prison.

Representatives of the Nice prosecutor’s office told BBC News that they will appeal the decision to release Kerimov which was made by the court of first instance.

  Suleyman Kerimov, France, Russia

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