Billionaire Russian lawmaker under investigation in France

Suleiman Kerimov

Kerimov has however been released but according to reports, he was freed under strict conditions.

The Russian foreign ministry has sent a note of protest to the French authorities arguing that as a high-ranking official Mr Kerimov has immunity from prosecution overseas, according to Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament.

Jean-Michel Pretre said that Kerimov was also wanted in connection to alleged money laundering charges.

A source close to the probe told AFP that Kerimov was accused of hiding tens of millions of euros from tax authorities while buying a string of properties on the glitzy Riviera through intermediaries.

"The senator status and the fact that he is a Russian citizen is a guarantee that we will, of course, put in all possible efforts to defend his lawful interests", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

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Kerimov, who is among the richest people in Russian Federation, was snatched by French law enforcement after arriving in Nice on Monday night.

But state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Kerimov had entered France on his private passport, which would likely prevent him from claiming diplomatic immunity, according to newspaper The Telegraph. This led to raids and seizures, including the seizure of one villa called "Hier" ("Yesterday") in cap d'Antibes last September which is believed to belong to Kerimov.

Until a year ago, he owned the football club, Anzhi Makhachkala, which became famous for big-money signings of stars including the Cameroonian striker, Samuel Eto'o.

His family now controls Russia's largest gold producer, Polyus.

The 51-year-old is a senator in the upper house of the Russian parliament, one of two representatives from the south-western republic of Dagestan in the North Caucasus region.

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