Italy arrests businessman over escape of Russian man from house arrest

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian police have arrested a Russian businessman accused of helping the indicted son of a Putin ally escape from house arrest in Italy last year, Milan prosecutors said on Friday.

In March 2023, Artem Uss fled to Russia after dodging Italian authorities trying to extradite him to the United States, where he faces charges for shipping oil from Venezuela in breach of sanctions, and for bank fraud.

Milan-based prosecutors described the suspect as a 54-year-old Russian entrepreneur and aristocrat living in Switzerland.

According to prosecutors, a group led by the suspect arranged for Uss to cross the border into Slovenia on the day of the escape and, by using cars registered in different countries as well as Serbian, Bosnian, Italian and Slovenian phone numbers tried to throw off the investigation.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter identified the arrested man as Dmitry Chirakadze, a resident of Geneva, adding that he was arrested by Carabinieri police at Rome's airport as he was returning from Sardinia.

He is the founder of the group and a partner in several Russian companies, along with members of Uss family. He is the owner, with his wife, of a luxury resort on the island of Sardinia and a large hunting estate in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, the prosecutors' statement said.

A lawyer for the suspect could not be immediately reached for comment.

Uss had been under house arrest at his home in Basiglio, on the outskirts of Milan, but fled the day after a Milan court agreed to extradite him to the United States.

His electronic tracking tag sent out an alarm when he left the house but he had disappeared by the time police arrived at the villa.

A week later, Uss made it known that he was in Russia. His father, Alexander Uss, who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin, resigned as governor of Russia's Krasnoyarsk region.

Italy's Treasury then froze the assets he held in the country.

The arrest is the latest development in an investigation into Uss' escape. Last December, the United States requested the extradition of another suspect, a man from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; Editing by Ros Russell)