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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Police Free Prokhorov

APA police car carrying Prokhorov arriving at the Lyon courthouse on Friday.
LYON, France -- French authorities freed Norilsk Nickel chief executive Mikhail Prokhorov on Friday following four days of questioning in connection with a probe into a high-class prostitution ring, the prosecutor said.

But Prokhorov, who at 41 is one of Russia's wealthiest men, and four others have all been designated material witnesses, prosecutor Xavier Richaud said. That designation does not exclude charges in the future.

The arrests Tuesday capped a six-month investigation into a suspected prostitution ring operating at the upmarket Alpine ski resort of Courchevel, a favored playground of Russia's rich.

Being designated a material witness means no charges are being filed, but does not exclude the risk -- however slight -- that charges could be filed in the future if the investigation shows cause.

"The Courchevel mountain gave birth to a judicial mouse," said a lawyer for one woman, an executive who works with Prokhorov released from custody Friday.

"There was a lot of agitation, a lot of noise for nothing. These were evenings and trips arranged by tour operators," said the lawyer, Yvan Guillotte.

Large black cars with tinted windows were seen leaving the Justice Palace in Lyon, apparently whisking off the five.

The prosecutor said the investigation was continuing but indicated that the five were free to return home. Asked whether they were returning to Russia or to Courchevel, he said: "That is not our problem."

A total of 26 people have been detained in the case, with all but five released after questioning.

Police investigators suspect that Russian call girls were brought to the resort, near the Lyon region of France, and paid mainly with gifts from luxury boutiques -- a tactic that could complicate efforts to prove the women were prostitutes and not simply friends. The prosecutor said three judges specialized in organized bands were continuing the investigation, but provided no details.

An Austrian who runs a travel agency initially suspected of helping Russian girls make their way to two luxury hotels at the ski resort was among the five freed. Richaud identified him as Paul Kirchmair of VCI travel agency.