French police have detained a Russian lawmaker and businessman as part of a probe into suspected laundering of tax fraud proceeds, according to media reports.
Suleiman Kerimov, who is a member of Russia’s upper House of Parliament, was arrested in Nice airport on Monday evening and put into custody for questioning in connection with a tax evasion case, Nice prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Kerimov is ranked by Forbes magazine as Russia's 21st wealthiest businessman, with a net worth of $6.3 billion. His family controls Russia's largest gold producer Polyus.
He shot to fame in the soccer world in 2011 when he bought Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala and went on a spectacular spending spree.
However, Kerimov abruptly slashed his financing for the team in August 2013 with little explanation. He sold Anzhi last year.
A source cited by Reuters said the investigation centres on the purchase of several luxury residences on the French Riviera via shell companies, something that would have enabled Kerimov to reduce taxes owed to the French state.
The source added Kerimov would be held in custody for at least another 24 hours.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday night it has notified France that Kerimov has diplomatic immunity.
However, a French official cited by Reuters said: "Kerimov does have a diplomatic passport, but that does not protect him from prosecution."
A spokesman for Kerimov, cited by the Financial Times, said that no criminal charges had been filed and that the oligarch was confident he would be cleared.