An arrest in France freaks out the Kremlin kleptocracy

Anna Nemtsova reports: He was one of Russia’s untouchables: the country’s 21st richest man, a senator in the upper chamber of parliament. He is part of the circle of businessmen known for their loyalty to President Vladimir Putin and the benefits they’ve reaped as a result, a billionaire member of Putin’s United Russia party who has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in important state projects to curry favor.

Such “pocket oligarchs” earn official status, even diplomatic immunity when they travel. And Suleiman Kerimov, 51, reportedly has a Russian diplomatic passport. But according to the Russian press, when he landed in France earlier this week he was on a private trip, and didn’t bring it.

Then, almost as soon he got off the plane in Nice, he got arrested for alleged tax evasion and money laundering. And the vision of Kerimov behind bars splashed in the Russian press shocked the country’s elite. Many of them, like Kerimov, have gotten used to keeping their fortunes, their luxury properties, their yachts, and indeed their families abroad.

Before this week they thought of the French Riviera, especially, as a safe haven where resorts like Cap d’Antibes, St. Jean-Cap Ferrat, and Beaulieu-sur-Mer are home to whole colonies of ultra-rich Russians. [Continue reading…]

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