Renowned Russian business magnate, Alexei Kuzmichev, has been taken into custody in France under allegations of breaching EU sanctions and committing tax fraud. This marks one of the earliest such aggressive actions executed by France in the wake of the unfolding conflict in Ukraine. Significantly, Kuzmichev, a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was apprehended in the luxurious coastal town of Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera.
As part of the investigatory proceedings, law enforcement authorities orchestrated simultaneous raids at Kuzmichev’s properties in Saint-Tropez and in the French capital, Paris. There has been no official comment thus far from Kuzmichev’s legal representation.
Kuzmichev, a key figure in the establishment of the Russian financial conglomerate, Alfa Group, was apprehended on a Monday. Allegations levelled against him encompass money laundering, tax evasion and infringement of international sanctions. His continued custody into Tuesday morning was confirmed by French financial prosecutors; at this time however, no formal charges have been presented.
The raids saw a significant number of police forces conducting exhaustive searches at Kuzmichev’s Parisian residence and his villa in Saint-Tropez in Var, as reported by the French daily, Le Monde. As of yet, there is no explicit detailing of the precise sanctions Kuzmichev is suspected of skirting. The inquiry into Kuzmichev’s affairs is being spearheaded by France’s anti-corruption agency.
Kuzmichev, who holds a firm standing as the 389th wealthiest individual globally, as per Forbes magazine, with an estimated net worth of $6.4bn (£5.25bn), was subjected to EU sanctions in March 2022, subsequent to Russia’s expansive military incursion into Ukraine. His alleged close ties to President Putin, deeming him a significantly influential figure within Russia, precipitated these sanctions.
In the aftermath of the sanctions, French officials seized two of Kuzmichev’s opulent yachts, La Petite Ourse and La Grande Ourse. However, despite legal charges against Kuzmichev relating to the yachts being dropped, the vessels remain under an institutional asset freeze.
Kuzmichev was previously a board member of UK-based investment organization, LetterOne. Cohorting with other prominent Russian entrepreneurs, he voluntarily stepped down from his position in March 2022, expressing his decision as “the right thing to do”.
Kuzmichev, one of the scant Russian billionaires actively residing in Europe since the onset of the Ukrainian crisis, is understood to have initiated an appeal to revoke the EU sanctions imposed on him. The verdict concerning his appeal is anticipated to be announced in the middle of November.