The ex-husband and business partner of Janna Bullock, the socialite property developer being sued for millions of dollars over alleged frauds including one involving a luxurious mansion in London’s Belgravia, has been ordered by a French court to be extradited to face criminal charges in Russia.
Meanwhile, Russian authorities have issued an international warrant for four-times-married Ms Bullock's arrest.
Alexey Kuznetsov is the second billionaire to have had his extradition to Russia ordered by the court of Aix-en-Provence in as many weeks, following its ruling that Kazakh oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov should be despatched to Russia to face fraud charges. Mr Ablyazov denies the charges and claims they are politically motivated.
Mr Kuznetsov and his glamorous then-wife Janna built up a property empire she once declared was worth $2bn, mainly in a Russian district where he was the local finance minister. He fled Russia after a former business associate was murdered, reappearing in the South of France.
However, the Russian authorities issued an international arrest warrant for him, claiming he had embezzled billions of dollars of state funds.
Police arrested him in July near Saint Tropez – a favourite playground of Russian oligarchs - and he has been in jail ever since. It has now emerged that the court of Aix-en-Provence has approved his extradition.
The French decision was welcomed in London by lawyers trying to seize assets from Ms Bullock that they claim were bought with money owed to their client, Gazprombank.
One source close to the case said: “We welcome this development. It puts renewed pressure on Janna Bullock to reveal what happened to the missing money.”
Mr Kuznetsov’s lawyer, Gregory Rincourt, told AFP: “Basically, this is an issue fabricated against him. Facts are not established . And given the current state of the Russian judicial system, he can not receive a fair trial , not to mention the conditions of his detention.”
Ms Bullock also strenuously denies allegations of fraud, claiming the numerous legal cases against her are attempts by Russian business rivals to steal her assets from her.
Legal experts said it was unlikely that the US authorities would act on the Russian arrest warrant. Mr Kuznetsov's legal team is expected to file an appeal against the extradition ruling.
The Independent revealed last month that Ms Bullock was being pursued by Gazprombank over millions of pounds it claims was stolen from it when it lent funds to the couple to develop properties in Moscow.
Gazprombank alleges that Ms Bullock spent its money buying a host of luxury properties around the world. They included a luxury mansion in Belgravia's exclusive Eaton Square which a company allegedly financed by Ms Bullock bought from the Duke of Grosvenor, the richest British man.
Her alleged company later sold the mansion for £20.5 million after it was substantially renovated and extended. The proceeds have subsequently been frozen by a court order, according to the RIA Novosti state sponsored Russian information bureau.
The Duke, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, or other representatives of his Grosvenor Estates empire, may be called as a witness in the case.