The Swiss financier, Alexander Studhalter, suspected of having served as a “straw man” for Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, at the center of an extensive investigation into money laundering on the French Riviera, has been remanded in custody in Nice, according to his spokespeople.
A statement released by the businessman’s office said his lawyers have referred the matter to the Trial Chamber of the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence and await the court “to recognize, as it did last December for others implicated in this case, that such detention is not legally justified.”
Studhalter’s legal team expressed their surprise at his being remanded in pre-trial detention after two and half years and after the first indictment was cancelled. Studhalter “who has always deferred to the summons issued by the investigating judge, continues to strongly challenge both the facts that are alleged against him and the qualification given to them,” says the statement.
Studhalter has been indicted for money laundering and tax evasion on the suspicion that he is merely the owner on paper of real estate acquisitions in Cap d’Antibes. French prosecutors believe the real owner of the properties, worth tens of millions of euros, is the Russian oligarch and friend of Studhalter’s, Suleiman Kerimov. It is alleged that by purchasing the properties through shell companies in Studhalter’s name Kerimov was able to avoid paying millions in taxes to the French state.
Among the acquisitions in dispute is the villa Hier declared to worth 35 million euros, but the deed to the property which was seized by the police and bears Studhalter’s signature refers to the sum of 127 million euros. In total, prosecutors estimate that the amount of clandestine Russian money that has been washed through such property-related tax evasion schemes in France to be between 500 and 750 million euros.
Suleiman Kerimov was indicted on November 23 for aggravated money laundering and tax evasion. In December, he escaped incarceration on bail of 40 million euros and a judicial order requiring him to stay in Nice. The deadline for payment of this record bond is January 15. A total of 13 people, including a number of local real estate professionals, have also been indicted as part of the investigation into the purchase of luxury properties on the Côte d’Azur for the purposes of tax evasion.