France has extradited the former Moscow regional finance minister to Russia. The once high-ranking official and his American wife stand accused of embezzling billions of rubles from the regional budget.
The French law enforcement “have complied with the extradition request,” the Russian Prosecutor General's office said in a statement, adding that the former official, identified as Aleksey Kuznetsov, arrived to Russia on January 3, accompanied by the Russian Interpol agents and the officers of the Federal Penal Correction Service.
Kuznetsov's case dates back to 2010, when he was charged with 10 counts of fraud, 3 counts of embezzlement, as well as with legalization of criminal assets. The damage his criminal actions inflicted to the Moscow region government, local housing and utility services as well as some local businesses amounted to an astonishing 14 billion rubles ($200mn).
According to the prosecutors, he committed his crimes together with his wife, a US citizen called Janna Bullock. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison in absentia in Russia over complicity in Kuznetsov's crimes in January 2018. However, her whereabouts are unknown at the moment. It is also unclear if she and Kuznetsov got divorced since then.
The former finance minister, who had also served as the regional government's deputy head, had already fled Russia by the time he faced the charges, so the Russian authorities put him on an international wanted list. He was eventually arrested three years later in France. France's financial prosecutor also opened a separate case against Kuznetsov and Bullock over legalization of his illegally obtained assets in France.
As part of the investigation, assets belonging to the couple in France and Switzerland that were believed to be purchased with criminal money were seized. The list includes hotels Crystal and Pralong in France, an apartment in Paris, two apartments in Switzerland, a villa in Saint-Tropez, as well as 27 paintings and eight sculptures, 10 Rolls-Royce, Mercedes and Bentley cars and a yacht. The assets were then sold to repay the victims, according to TASS.
In November 2017, the French prime minister issued a decree on Kuznetsov's extradition. The former Russian official then appealed this decision but lost his case in the French court on December 28, 2018.
The Russian Prosecutor General's Office praised the work of its French colleagues by saying that “timely cooperation” with Paris allowed it to “break down the barriers” in this case. It also said that it also “gives particular importance to international cooperation.”
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