updated 1/12/2007 3:52:35 PM ET 2007-01-12T20:52:35

Authorities on Friday freed a Russian billionaire following questioning in connection with an investigation into a suspected prostitution ring operating at the swank Alpine ski resort of Courchevel, a prosecutor said.

The arrest this week of Mikhail Prokhorov, who made his fortune in nickel and gold mining, capped a six-month investigation into the suspected prostitution ring.

Although Prokhorov was released, he and four others have all been designated material witnesses in the investigation, said prosecutor Xavier Richaud.

Being designated a material witness means that 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 there is cause.

“There was a lot of agitation, a lot of noise for nothing. These were evenings and trips arranged by tour operators,” said lawyer Yvan Guillotte, whose client was described as a Russian manager of Prokhorov’s firm, Norilsk Nickel.

Considered an eligible bachelor
The 6-foot-7 Prokhorov is often described as Russia’s most eligible bachelor. Even among Russia’s big-spending business elite, he has a reputation for organizing lavish parties.

He is ranked No. 89 on Forbes magazine’s 2006 list of the world’s richest people. He is worth $6.4 billion, according to Forbes, largely thanks to his holding in OAO Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest nickel producer, and Polyus Gold, Russia’s biggest gold miner.

Prokhorov, 41, has used his wealth to acquire Euroleague basketball champions CSKA. He divides his time between Norilsk, Moscow, Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, and Courchevel, where he owns a chalet.

Investigators suspect Russian call girls were brought to the resort in Courchevel, a favored playground of Russia’s rich, to work during the winter holidays, Richaud said. Clients allegedly paid the women with gifts from luxury boutiques.

A total of 26 people were taken in for questioning Tuesday, Richaud said.

The arrests occurred in several hotels at fashionable Courchevel, which has its own airstrip that can accommodate private jets. Russian tycoons flock to the resort over the New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays.

Investigators also seized $65,000 at two four-star hotels in Courchevel, an official working on the probe said. The official was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity. No drugs or weapons were found.

Based on Russia’s Arctic edge in the Taimyr Peninsula, Norilsk Nickel also has the world’s biggest reserves of palladium, and its mines were at one point worked by inmates of Josef Stalin’s gulag.

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