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Russian billioner under investigation in Cap d’Antibes

Billionaire deputy Suleyman Kerimov could be the real owner of a property complex larger than 90,000 m2. The financial conditions of some of his acquisitions are being investigated, reported in the media.

The high walls of the villa “Hier” (“Yesterday”), at Cap d’Antibes, weren’t enough to keep a secret hidden. Neither were the thick curtains recently hung on the windows of this sumptuous 12,000 m2 property. Police also seized the bill from an upholsterer for 580,000 euros! This bill for the curtains could, among other documents and family photographs, provide proof of what the Côte d’Azur justice department sought by searching one of the most beautiful residences on the coast last February 15.

That is to say that the villa “Hier” (“Yesterday”) and its luxurious items may belong to Suleyman Kerimov, a multi-billionaire oligarch, deputy of Dagestan on the council of the Russian Federation. The Russian businessman who made a fortune in precious metals and potash is indeed suspected of being one of the largest landowners in Cap d’Antibes. Yet his name does not appear on the property titles. Officially, the villa “Hier,” and its neighbors: the villas Medy Roc, Lexa and Fiorella, as well as the land of the old villa Pellerin at the tip of the Cape, are owned by the Swiss financier Alexander Studhalter. More than 90,000 m2 total! If Alexander Studhalter refuses to express himself on the merits of the case, one of his relatives assures that “since he invested to develop a real estate project in Cap d’Antibes, he has always complied with his tax obligations.” Suggesting, in passing, that the villas “Hier” and “Medy Roc” are no more than simple holiday homes for a billionaire.

The Kerimov family regularly stays there. As a result, justice is wondering if the Swiss financier is, in fact, a co-conspirer of this wealthy Russian deputy. They are mainly interested in the conditions of acquisition of these luxury villas because the amounts declared to the French tax authorities may not correspond to the real purchase price. There are indications that enormous bribes could have been paid directly into Switzerland through obscure financial arrangements.

A lawyer from the Bastia bar in Antibes seemed to have become a specialist in these offshore circuits. Stéphane Chiaverini has been charged and spent some time in detention in the context of this extended court file initiated in November 2014 and entrusted to the Nice judicial police. It was by focusing on Mr. Chiaverini’s affairs that led investigators to Cap d’Antibes and to the residences supposedly belonging to the Russian billionaire Kerimov. The lawyer had indeed acted as an intermediary during the transfer of the villa “Hier”. (When contacted, Stéphane Chiaverini and his lawyer, Brigitte Mindeguia, did not wish to respond to requests.)

Official amount of the sale, at least for the French tax authorities: 35 million euros. Except that certain elements of the case show that an additional 61 million had been paid directly into the seller’s account in Switzerland. Although his lawyers, Frèche and Soussi, dispute these facts, this heir of a rich Corsican family could have attempted to avoid part of the capital gains tax. Potentially reducing the registration fees which are supposed to be borne by the acquirer, except that the Swiss financier, whether or not he represents the interests of Suleyman Kerimov, had them contractually charged to the seller.

17 million euros already seized

Tax authorities may or may not consider that they are bound by this purely private contract, depending on whether they’d like to try and recover what is due to them by all means. Since the beginning of the investigation of this case at the end of 2014, the courts have already ordered the seizure of several real estates, works of art, jewelry and luxury vehicles, for a total amount in excess of 17 million euros. They may be tempted to do the same with the sumptuous properties searched last month at Cap d’Antibes. Unless they decide to settle for the Ferrari Enzo or the Bugatti Veyron, which the investigators and Judge Alexandre Julien discovered in the garage.

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