By John Helmer in Moscow
Mikhail Prokhorov has been honoured, he has announced, by the apology of the French government.
The Sunday Times of London reported this month that “three years after his arrest in the ski resort of Courchevel on charges of pimping [January 9, 2007], Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s richest man, has received an apology from the French authorities for embroiling him in one of the most ill-judged sex scandals of recent times….He was held in a Lyons jail for four days on charges of soliciting for prostitution. Furious at the ‘ludicrous accusations which damaged my reputation’ he launched a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against the French state and demanded an apology. It finally came last month during a meeting between French and Russian officials, presided over by prime ministers Vladimir Putin and Francois Fillon. Prokhorov said: ‘That puts an end to this affair. I said from day one that this case was groundless and am now satisfied with the explanations given to me’.”
The French Embassy in Moscow was asked to provide details of the alleged lawsuit against the French state, and of the purported apology to Prokhorov, when it was issued, and in what form. The Embassy spokesman Thomas Buffin did not reply.
No trace of a public report of the apology, or of the French official providing it, can be found in the French press. On October 5, Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign affairs, told Novaya Gazeta, which asked for his “point of view on the decision of French justice to let Mr. Prokhorov go again to Courchevel”: “I cannot, in the name of the government, challenge a judicial decision. If not, it would be necessary for me to protest very often, for there are many judicial decisions which upset me.”
Several French regional newspapers, as well as Le Monde, reported at the end of September that the case against Prokhorov had been closed. That information came from Prokhorov’s French attorney, Alexander Genko. He claimed the prosecutors had wound up the proceedings by a “non-lieu” in August. The French legal term, literally “non-suit”, means a ruling of no case to answer. Depending on the details, which have not been released, it can also mean insufficient evidence for prosecution.
Genko went further. According to Le Monde, he attacked Prokhorov’s official accusers of “an important disinformation, since the start, not only of the judge, but also of the police.”
Genko – full name Genko-Starosellsky – was reported by Prokhorov himself , on Prokhorov’s website, as saying much earlier “that the probe should be closed as soon as possible, and that French law-enforcers’ actions were unacceptable. ‘Mikhail Prokhorov’s defense team has so far taken a fairly quiet position,’ Alexander Genko-Starosselsky said. ‘We considered that a mistake could have been made in the very beginning and that French authorities would close the case in line with legal procedures.’ ‘But clearly, we could drastically alter our position if no decision follows within a reasonable period of time,’ he said.” Genko was reported by the Prokhorov website as saying that on December 19, 2007 – 20 months before the non-lieu was issued.
Because Lyon was the headquarters of the prosecution of the charges against Prokhorov (and others), the local newspaper, Le Progres, has been the best informed among the media reporting on the case since the news of Prokhorov’s arrest first materialized in January of 2007.
On November 25, 2009, Le Progres published a detailed account of what it claims was the two and a half-year campaign by the Russian authorities to delay, and then to prevent the French judge and prosecutor in the Prokhorov case from completing their work. “How Russia has blocked a Lyon investigation” is the headline. The lead says: “in the name of the higher ‘interests’ of the [Russian] Federation, a judge and a prosecutor of Lyon have been unable to intervene in an affair of prostitution implicating a Russian billionaire at Courchevel.”
Judge Nicolas Chareyre and Prosecutor Xavier Richaud reportedly received a letter from the Russian Prosecutor-General, dated April 10, 2009, in which – according to Le Progres – the Russian official wrote that the national interests, including those of one of the most important Russian companies, precluded meeting the requests of the French authorities. This, according to the Lyon reporter Richard Schittly, prevented Chareyre and Richaud from traveling to Moscow to interview suspects and witnesses in the case. According to an unnamed assistant prosecutor at Lyon, cited by Schittly, there was “a contrary attitude to cooperation among democratic states.”
According to Le Progres, “the [French] central office for combating trafficking in human beings (OCRTEH) and the police have established that Norilsk Nickel, the group [formerly] led by Mikhail Prokhorov, was the origin of 140 visa applications to the Embassy of France in Moscow since March 2004.” An intermediary organization, reports Schittly, was paid €1.5 million for one set of travel arrangements it made for young women applicants to visit Prokhorov at Courchevel. When the French investigators questioned some of these women at the time of Prokhorov’s arrest in January 2007, Le Progres says the women denied prostitution.
Le Progres reports that as late as July 2 of last year, the French investigation was still active, and that a réquisitoire had been issued by Richaud. Subsequently, the newspaper reports, the non-lieu was issued, not in vindication of the accused, but “faute de « charges suffisantes ».”
Here is the original article in French:
The Russian Prosecutor-General was asked to confirm sending the letter of April 10, 2009, to the Lyon judicial authorities ; and also to say if the visit to Moscow of Chareyre and Richaud had been blocked. There has been no response.
Mark Franchetti, the Sunday Times reporter who claims Prokhorov had received a French government apology, was asked if, apart from the claim by the receiver of the apology, he received any evidence of it from the sender. “I have it from Russian sources not French”, he replied.
The US basketball press have been interested in the “French apology”, because the arrest, jail time, and prosecution cast a shadow over Prokhorov’s application to buy the New Jersey Nets team franchise. In several places the apology has been reported to have been followed by a lavish celebration on the ski slopes of Courchevel, hosted by Prokhorov. This is the New York Post version of the story:
Nets owner hosting pal Putin
Prokhorov, worth about $9.5 billion, was arrested in January 2007 in Courchevel as he celebrated the new year with friends and some beautiful young women. He was held in a Lyon jail for four days over allegations that he hired Russian hookers for his guests.
He was cleared of all charges and blasted the “ludicrous accusations which damaged my reputation.” He later launched a lawsuit against the French government and demanded an apology, which came last month during a meeting between French and Russian officials, led by Putin.
Last month, Prokhorov signed formal contracts to buy a controlling stake in the Nets, a move to be voted on by the NBA board of governors early this year. A rep for Prokhorov could not be reached.
The website of Prokhorov’s new basketball team, the NETS Daily, either had the story first, or ran it simultaneously with the New York Post:
A High Level Apology for Prokhorov…. Thanks to Putin
January 3, 2010, 6:23 pm
Prokhorov’s spokesman, Igor Petrov, was asked if Prokhorov had hosted Putin at Courchevel this month for a ski holiday. Petrov replied the press report was “idle speculation.”
At Courchevel, sources at the Mayor’s Office and the Office of Tourism said they knew nothing. One local source implied that even if he did know, it wouldn’t be good for business if he talked. Schittly, the case reporter at Le Progres in Lyon, said he had no knowledge of either the French apology to Prokhorov, or of the reported vindication fete at Courchevel this month.
Asked about the Prime Minister Putin’s ski vacation in January, the Prime Ministry press office requested a fax, and has not responded to it, yet.
Marshal Kutuzov and his staff at the Battle of Borodino 1812 — Prokhorov replay