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France arrests Kerimov Russian billionaire for tax evasion

Russia has protested the arrest of billionaire Suleyman Kerimov in France, where he faced a second day of questioning over alleged tax evasion involving the purchase of luxury properties.

The Russian government summoned France’s deputy ambassador after Kerimov, a senator, was detained upon arrival at the airport in the French Riviera resort of Nice on Monday night.

According to AFP, Kerimov was accused of hiding tens of millions of euros from tax authorities while buying a string of properties on the glitzy Riviera through intermediaries.

His detention prompted angry Russian MPs to pass a resolution branding the arrest a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, urging Moscow to press for his release.

“The senator status and the fact that he is a Russian citizen is a guarantee that we will, of course, put in all possible efforts to defend his lawful interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

He stressed that 51-year-old Kerimov holds a diplomatic passport, though he is not believed to have used it when he flew into Nice on personal business Monday.

France’s foreign ministry said Kerimov enjoys immunity from prosecution “only for actions carried out in the exercise of his functions”.

It will be “up to the judge hearing the case to decide” whether or not the allegations relate to his official role and are covered by immunity, a ministry spokesman said.

Listed by Forbes magazine as Russia’s 21st richest person with an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion (5.4 billion euros), Kerimov made his fortune during the privatisations that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union.

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