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Transactions Between Bernard Arnault and Russian Businessman Face Scrutiny

French prosecutors are investigating financial transactions involving Bernard Arnault, the head of the LVMH luxury empire, and Nikolai Sarkisov, a Russian insurance businessman, the Paris prosecutor’s office said on Friday.

An investigation was opened in 2022 and is still in its preliminary stages, the prosecutor’s office said. No one has been charged.

Tracfin, an intelligence unit of the French economy ministry, had flagged the financial transactions to determine whether they could be considered money laundering, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office, which declined to elaborate on the details of the case.

The existence of the investigation was only made public this week after Le Monde, the French newspaper, reported that the French authorities were looking into the purchase in 2018 by Mr. Sarkisov of over a dozen properties in Courchevel, a ski resort in the French Alps, through a complex web of shell companies.

According to Le Monde, citing information from Tracfin, French financial investigators suspect Mr. Sarkisov of being a straw buyer for Mr. Arnault in the deal.

It was not immediately clear why Mr. Arnault, one of the world’s richest men, might have used Mr. Sarkisov as an intermediary.

A spokesman for Mr. Arnault, 74, was not immediately reachable for comment. Le Monde cited a source close to Mr. Arnault as saying that the transaction was fully legal.

Mr. Sarkisov, 55, owns and manages RESO-Garantia, one of Russia’s largest insurance companies, with his brother Sergei.

Igor Ivanov, a spokesman for RESO-Garantia, said that neither the company nor Mr. Sarkisov was involved in the real estate transaction described by Le Monde and that Mr. Sarkisov and Mr. Arnault had never met.

“The transaction was managed by a small investment unit which invests professionally in European real estate,” Mr. Ivanov said in a statement. “It consisted of acquiring flats in an old building in Courchevel from various private owners, with the view to sell them later to a developer once the entire building was bought out.”

“All transactions were carried out by French companies, through French notaries by French lawyers on all sides,” he added. “This was a usual real estate deal.”

Tracfin has toughened its scrutiny of wealthy Russian investors since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. The unit declined to comment.

RESO-Garantia had already come under scrutiny in France in a separate influence peddling investigation involving Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, who was hired by the company in 2019 as a special adviser under a 3 million euro contract. That case is still pending.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting from London.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com