Dirty rotten scoundrels: Kerimov and Studhalter borrow cars from each other
French law enforcement authorities suspect billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, one of the richest Russian businessmen, of fraud. Allegedly, he owns several expensive villas in Nice officially registered in the name of a dummy person. The investigators are interested in the villa acquisition details: they believe that the tax documents show figures purposively understated in order to pay less taxes. The CrimeRussia was figuring out what other assets may belong to Kerimov and who is trying to conceal those?
Russian oligarch and Senator from Dagestan Suleyman Kerimov has been arrested on suspicion of laundering proceeds of a tax fraud committed in France. The French investigative authorities have met Kerimov in the Nice Airport and escorted to the local police department. Two days later, after giving testimony, the oligarch was released on €5-million bail. The Russian billionaire is suspected of purchasing expensive villas in Côte d’Azur at understated prices via a dummy person.
Life à la cinema
Villa Hier that has recently hit the headlines can be seen on satellite images. Furthermore, in 1988, comedy 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' was filmed there. It is also shown in Master of the Game TV Series filmed in the 1980s. Luxury fronts, expensive interiors, a great lot with a swimming pool – these advantages made the villa lucrative not only for movie makers, but for Suleyman Kerimov as well. In addition, the Cap d’Antibes peninsula where Villa Hier is located is considered one of the most elite places.
Movies filmed on Villa Hier
This location is known as the bay of Antibes billionaires. Real estate prices on Cap d’Antibes are among the highest in France. However, it is impossible for an ordinary person to inquire about the cost of local mansions – only a few real estate companies are entrusted to sell homes there and they offer potential customers to discuss all the aspects at a personal meeting with an authorized representative. The villa of late Boris Berezovsky was located there as well – the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation has seized it in 2014. The villa of Roman Abramovich is also located on Cap d’Antibes. In 2011, he has arrived there on his famous Eclipse yacht for the first time – and the vessel was too large for the bay and had to cast anchor near the Cap d’Antibes peninsula. In 2013, the local police had reported a robbery of a villa in Côte d’Azur belonging to Lev Kuznetsov, then-Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai. He had confronted the robbers and was even wounded. It is necessary to note though that Kuznetsov had honestly included this foreign real estate into his income and asset declaration.
Who is the owner?
Suleyman Kerimov claims he has nothing to do with the lands and homes in Côte d’Azur attributed to him. Swiss financier and oligarch’s friend Alexander Studhalter rushes to help him. According to the documents, the above-mentioned villa belongs to Studhalter. But the French investigators have noticed the understated price of the property. A portion of the sale proceeds has evaded the French tax authorities. Officially, Villa Hier was purchased in 2008 for €35 million, but RBC reports that the investigation has found out that the purchaser had transferred €96 million to a Swiss account. The French authorities suspect that the Swiss financier is just a ‘cover’ for the true owner – Suleyman Kerimov – while the actual cost of the villa may reach €150 million. In February 2017, the police had searched Villa Hier and found an invoice for renovation works for some €500 thousand. The curtains and tapestry were purchased for €580 thousand. The investigators have also found Ferrari Enzo and Bugatti Veyron in the garage. Nice-Matin local newspaper claims that Kerimov owns, via Studhalter, nearby villas Medy Roc, Lexa, and Fiorella and also a land lot where Villa Pellerin was earlier located with an area of 90 thousand square meters worth some €300 million. All the properties officially belong to Studhalter.
The name of this Swiss financier has popped up for the first time in relation to another incident involving Kerimov and an expensive car. In 2006, a traffic accident occurred on the road to the Nice Airport. A rare black Ferrari Enzo suddenly left the road, hit a tree, and caught fire. The car was literally torn apart. Suleyman Kerimov was behind the wheel of a vehicle matching Formula 1 race cars by its parameters. TV hostess Tina Kandelaki had accompanied the oligarch. Kerimov sustained heavy injuries – according to the medics, 70% of his body were burned. He was induced into an artificial coma. Doctors say that he has survived by a miracle. After that incident, the oligarch started wearing special gloves on his hands.
Tina Kandelaki was injured insignificantly – she got a burn on her hand she had later tried to conceal on public. After receiving first aid in a French hospital, she fled and took the first available flight to Moscow, thus, avoiding the need to answer questions of the local police. She had persistently denied the very fact of her staying in France and avoided the press. Kandelaki had even claimed that she had mumps. But later the TV hostess admitted that she was with Kerimov during that ride. After all, it was silly to deny the presence of her last name in the official report of the French police. Later Kandelaki made a tattoo on the injured hand. Still, no rational explanation for the presence of a married woman in the car of a married oligarch was provided. Allegedly, she had agreed to meet the billionaire in Côte d'Azur to find an investor for a new TV project. But the point is that the crushed Ferrari had officially belonged to above-mentioned Aleksander Studhalter. Allegedly, he had lent the supercar to Kerimov. The delicate issue with the insurance payout for a Ferrari driven by a stranger has been hastily hushed up and never discussed in public.
The official web site of Swiss International Advisory Group states that Alexander Studhalter specializes in corporate and real estate investments, company development, and private-public partnerships. After specializing in the field of IT security and network technology in Russia, Alexander Studhalter studied business management where he focused on finance and accounting. Currently Studhalter continues developing Swiss International Advisory Group and manages the Studhalter Group founded by its parents, who remain actively involved in the company just as before, in 1974 and specializing in the fields of property and multi-client family office services. In 1998, Studhalter has incorporated Swiru Holding AG, his investment and private equity company. From 1999 onwards, he had invested, reorganized and actively traded in the collapsing Soviet corporate market with that company.
Forbes wrote in 2012 that personal assets of Kerimov officially belong to Swiru Holding. Vedomosti newspaper wrote that, according to the recently published Paradise Papers, the holding chaired by Studhalter had managed Bahamas-based Altitude 41 company. The Kerimov’s declaration for the year of 2011 filed before the elections to the State Duma states that he owns 5% in Bahamian company Altitude 41. The list of its shareholders includes Nariman Gadzhiev (possibly, a former Minister of Publishing and Information of Dagestan).
The name of Alexander Studhalter is also mentioned in so-called ‘Bahamas Papers’. According to the leaked information, he owns Sirius Advisors Ltd. offshore company incorporated in the Bahamas. It acts as an intermediary for Trident Corporate Services (BAH) Ltd. In addition, Studhalter is in charge of Studhalter Rechsanwalte company.
As it happens, Studhalter manages the family business of Kerimov and allows the oligarch to drive his Ferrari.
Sink or swim
The French law enforcement authorities started showing interest to owners of real estate on the Cap d’Antibes in 2014. At that time, lawyer Stephen Chiaverini specializing in taxation law was arrested. According to Nice-Matin newspaper, this lawyer had, in fact, specialized in creation of offshore schemes whose sole purpose was to evade French taxes. Chiaverini has been charged with complicity in laundering and siphoning off funds concealed from tax authorities to offshore territories. According to the investigation, he had assisted to conceal some €100 million from the taxation. The law enforcement authorities have already seized several real properties, pieces of art and jewelry, and expensive vehicles worth in total over €17 million. In September 2017, Nice-Matin reported that a villa worth €100 million has been seized in the framework of the investigation.
Interestingly, a week after the media publications about searches carried out in Villa Hier allegedly belonging to the Russian oligarch, the web site of Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Suleyman Kerimov, Member of the Council of the Federation from Dagestan, has been awarded the Order of Merit for the Motherland II Class. The published document states that Kerimov has been awarded for work achievements, vigorous public activity, and longstanding dedicated work.
The Senator from Dagestan has declared an income of 12 million rubles ($205.5 thousand) for the year of 2016. He owns 3/4 of an apartment with the living space of 53.5 square meters, has in use another residence with the living space of 37.8 square meters, and owns a Mercedes-Benz S-klasse 600. The rest of his assets – an apartment, two BMW vehicles, and another Mercedes of the same model – officially belong to his wife and minor children. Forbes estimates the oligarch’s fortune at $6.3 billion. Kerimov has lost some $100 million due to price fluctuations of Polyus Gold shares amid the scandal with his arrest – but experts believe that this won’t last for long. Suleyman Kerimov is rarely mentioned as the final beneficiary of his assets; the majority of those officially belong to his relatives.
In 2013, after the approval of the law prohibiting Deputies, officials, their spouses, and minor children from owning foreign real estate and bank accounts by Vladimir Putin, Kerimov has transferred all his assets, including shares in Polyus Gold (parent company of Polyus, the largest Russian gold mining holding; its capitalization at the London Stock Exchange is $10.8 billion), to blind trust of Swiss-based Suleyman Kerimov Foundation. According to Vedomosti newspaper, after the repurchase of Polyus Gold shares from the London Stock Exchange in 2015, the company now belongs to structures controlled by Senator’s son Said Kerimov – Wandle Holdings Limited and Sacturino Ltd.
Based on the reports of Suleyman Kerimov Foundation, the total amount of investments into the fund in the year of 2016 was €1.4 million; out of that amount, €920 thousand have been spent on charitable activities, while €373 thousand – on the fund management. But the most interesting is that above-mentioned Alexander Studhalter is the President of Suleyman Kerimov Foundation.
Signature of Suleyman Kerimov Foundation's president
Izvestia newspaper wrote at that time that the obviously fictitious disposition of the foreign assets has shaken the positions of Suleyman Kerimov. Answering a question at a media forum of the All-Russia People's Front, Vladimir Putin said as follows: “It is good that we have retained our cable networks. You know that we have nearly lost those. A few years ago, all our cable networks could fall to a foreign operator. Just in one touch. But this hasn’t happened, and the networks remain in Russia, under control of Russian owners.” The head of the state has not specified though what asset he had referred to.
But later, Vesti Nedeli TV program reported in a segment dedicated to the Panama Papers and scandal involving cellist Roldugin that the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation had prevented the sale of Natsionalnye Telekommunikatsii (National Telecommunications) company in 2008. At that time, this strategic asset had belonged to Suleyman Kerimov.
According to Vesti, the CIA was interested in the acquisition of shares of the largest cable TV and Internet operator in Russia. “The assets have been withdrawn to an offshore territory. Preparations for the sale of these assets to an American company financed by special funds was ongoing,” a person introduced as an FSB officer told. The special services have made a decision “to regain the state control over this asset” and addressed the Russian businessmen. A portfolio of shares estimated at the stock exchange at $1.5 billion has been purchased by National Media Group belonging to Yuri Kovalchuk; Severstal and Surgutneftegas have acquired lesser parcels of shares. Sberbank, VTB Bank, and Gazprombank have created a financial pool in equal shares. In April 2008, the investors have bought out 100% of Natsionalnye Telekommunikatsii. “The strategic resource of Russia has been snatched from under Americans’ nose. This was ‘the St. Petersburg jab’,” the journalist has concluded the segment.
An ordinary deal of Kerimov – a foregone sale on the stock exchange where shares of many Russian telecommunication companies are traded – was interpreted as nearly a treason.
Now the situation is different, and Russia is fiercely defending Kerimov. The Senator has arrived to France without his diplomatic passport on an obviously private visit – but the Kremlin tries to help him through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Colleagues of Kerimov in the Council of the Federation claim that his arrest is politically charged. Deputy of the State Duma Rizvan Kurbanov has called his colleagues to request the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to file a note of protest to the French authorities in relation to the arrest of Suleyman Kerimov. Kurbanov has noted that each Russian parliamentarian may share his fate.
This statement allows to conclude that each Russian parliamentarian is hiding something abroad – and in the period of confrontation with the West, all the secret stashes may be revealed to the public, regardless of the status of their owners.