Billionaire Kerimov escapes international justice for the third time
Oligarch Suleyman Kerimov languishing under home arrest in Côte d'Azur has been released. Claims against the billionaire brought by the French authorities have vanished a month after the visit of Emmanuel Macron to Russia. In a few months, the law enforcement structures failed to identify any crime in suspicious financial operations pulled off by Kerimov and his partner Alexander Studhalter. The verdict of French Themis is supported by other countries as well.
On the morning of June 29, oligarch Suleyman Kerimov has freely arrived to the Council of the Federation on Bolshaya Dmitrovka street. A good beginning for an official myth about the liberation of a Russian oligarch from French imprisonment, isn’t it? An aide to Kerimov claims that after being released by the Aix-en-Provence Court, the Senator has immediately flown to Moscow and rushed to work from the airport.
After the seven months of home arrest, all the charges laid against Kerimov have been dropped and bail of €40 million returned to him. Aix-en-Provence Prosecutor Jean-Michel Prêtre confirmed that the Russian Senator is not considered a suspect anymore and has an assisted witness status in that case.
The assisted witness status is an intermediate one in the French justice system. According to the Criminal Code, such witnesses cannot be placed under juridical supervision, or home arrest with electronic surveillance, or in a preventive detention cell.
However, according to Vanessa Perret, a representative of the French Prosecutor General's Office, the change of the Kerimov’s status “does not necessarily mean that the law enforcement authorities are ready to drop all the charges laid against him.
The logic of the French authorities remains unclear; most probably, this is just a coincidence. Back in December 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation had stood up for Suleyman Kerimov and letters signed by Knights of the Legion of Honor were submitted in his support – making the French doubtful about the relevance of these conferrals. However, his release went, in fact, unnoticed – because any references to this heartwarming event remind about the recent visit of Emmanuel Macron to Russia. Apparently, this was just a coincidence.
It must be noted that the entire life of Suleyman Kerimov is full of coincidences. Even the seemingly logical allegations of the French authorities turned out to be a series of random events occurring over a ten-year period. Back in 2006, a good friend of Kerimov – moneyman Alexander Studhalter, owner of Swiru Holding (Switzerland) – had lent a luxury Ferrari Enzo to the humble billionaire to drive the streets of Nice. One of such rides became truly unforgettable because Kerimov and TV hostess Tina Kandelaki accompanying him had a terrible car accident.
Scene of the traffic involving the Senator
While the medics were struggling for the life of Kerimov and local tabloids discussed the crash details, new coincidences have appeared. Swiru Holding managed Altitude 41 Ltd. established in the same year of 2006 and referred to in the Paradise Papers – the name of Studhalter is mentioned there together with such people as Suleyman Kerimov and Nariman Gadzhiev (a full namesake of a former Minister of Press and Information of the Republic of Dagestan). In 2011, Kerimov has declared Altitude 41 Ltd. in his income and tax declaration.
At that time, Kerimov was a member of the Council of the Federation, and soon he has got an unpleasant surprise. A number of anti-corruption amendments were approved in 2013 obliging civil servants to observe some decencies and prohibiting both the people's choices and appointed governmental officials from owning foreign assets. Kerimov solved the problem instantly by establishing Suleyman Kerimov Foundation in Switzerland – by some coincidence, Alexander Studhalter was in charge of this organization some time ago. All the oligarch's assets were transferred to the foundation. Little is known about charitable activities of the fund, but Polyus Gold company assigned to it became a property of ‘needy' young man Said Kerimov.
Such coincidences never surprise people in Switzerland and other island states – so-called ‘billionaires’ sanctuaries’. The French authorities got used to such caprices of the rich as castles and luxury yachts – but they hadn’t believed in coincidences until recently. Therefore, it was difficult for the French police to be convinced that the friendship between the Swiss businessman and Russian oligarch and four villas located on the French coast not far from each other (Hier, Medy Roc, Lexa, and Fiorella) with the total living space of 90 thousand square meters were just a coincidence. Furthermore, allegedly there was nothing special in the fact that designers at MMM Architects have named the rooms in Studhalter’s Villa Medy Roc after the children of Suleyman Kerimov.
Villa Hier (still from a movie)
Villa Medy Roc
All these facts could go unnoticed – but Villa Hier, the most famous one, where several movies were filmed, has suspiciously fallen in value in the course of its acquisition by Studhalter. Its sale price was only €35 million – although Alexander Studhalter has transferred to the Swiss account of its former owners €61 million, paid out debts of the company officially owning the property in the amount of €14 million, and paid additional €14 million to the former owner as a ‘relocation compensation’. Taking that the French police had referred to some “bags full of money”, the last sum was likely paid in cash.
It is quite possible that the same scheme was used during the acquisition of the other villas.
The amount of money not received by the French treasury in taxes had obnubilated the investigators’ minds – and they started looking for a financial conspiracy between Studhalter and Kerimov. Their suspicions have resulted in searches, seizure of two villas, and home arrest of the two sworn friends. Studhalter and Kerimov had faced 5 years in a French prison and hundreds of thousands of euros in fines – in addition to the unpaid taxes that had to be remitted in accordance with a good old European tradition. Kerimov immediately started suffering from home-sickness. The humane French investigators permitted him to visit Russia for medical reasons. With each such visit, Kerimov was feeling better, while the charges laid against him were waning. Alexander Studhalter has been released from home arrest in March, Suleyman Kerimov – in late July.
Such graciousness is not unusual for the Western countries. Ernst & Young, Google, and even American billionaire Marc Rich were charged with tax evasion at various occasions. All of them have paid fines of $123–300 million in addition to the remitted taxes; Marc Rich was afraid to return to the USA even after being pardoned by Bill Clinton. Neither us nor the foreign media are aware of any fines paid by Kerimov. It is known however that meetings of the Russian and French Presidents had preceded the releases of Studhalter and Kerimov. The example shown by the French police teaches us not to look for causes and effects too persistently – as some other countries do.
For instance, the Belarusian law enforcement authorities also used to have claims against Suleyman Kerimov. In 2010, Kerimov has entered the potassium fertilizer market by purchasing Uralkali from Dmitry Rybolovlev and Silvinit. The new giant had worked in partnership with Belaruskali until 2013 – at that time, Kerimov decided to increase his share on the market. The oligarch’s plans hadn’t taken into account the interests of Belaruskali. However, Belarus has reminded Kerimov that his business practices contradict the national laws.
Criminal cases were instituted against several Uralkali top managers, including Suleyman Kerimov, for exceeding official powers. Kerimov was demonstratively put on the international wanted list and Interpol engaged in the manhunt. Too bad, but a few months later, the enthusiasm of Belarusian investigators has waned, and the criminal cases were quietly closed. Still, Kerimov had to sell his potassium business.
But the real champion in ignoring ‘unnecessary' details is India. Its law enforcement authorities had investigated high-profile financial crimes committed by Indian businessman Hasan Ali Khan and completely disregarded the deals between Khan and Kerimov suspiciously resembling money laundering operations. Similarly, nobody is interested in business schemes pulled off by Kerimov in Russia – although these were full of weird coincidences as well. For instance, in 2003–2004, currently non-existent Nafta-Moskva belonging to Kerimov had actively purchased Gazprom and Sberbank shares using credit funds provided by Sberbank... But Russian Themis does not like solving such puzzles. Its slogan is: “Ignorance is bliss”.
When the plane took off, the men insulted the crew members, annoy the flight attendants and shout obscenities. One of the men began to hit the walls shouting that he had to get out. Another tried to take in a woman's knees.