The Kazakh billionaire who bought the Duke of York's former marital home is the subject of a £380 million money laundering investigation, it was claimed last night.
Swiss prosecutors were said to have started a criminal inquiry into allegations that Timur Kulibayev used Swiss banks to launder the proceeds of fraud.
Mr Kulibayev is no stranger to poisonous allegations from political and business rivals, and has weathered a number of smears.
He vehemently denies claims that he misappropriated funds in his former job running Kazakhstan's state-owned oil industry.
A Geneva-based lawyer claimed yesterday that the Swiss public prosecutor was carrying out a formal investigation into allegations of money-laundering. The disclosure will refocus attention on the sale three years ago of the Duke's home in Sunninghill, Berks.
The businessman paid the Duke £15 million for the house, substantially more than the £12 million asking price, even though there were no other bidders. Mr Kulibayev's girlfriend, Goga Ashkenazi, has said she introduced him to the Duke, telling Hello! magazine earlier this year: "It was like any property deal between friends."
Since the sale, the house has stood empty and uncared for, and is rapidly turning into a ruin. Mr Kulibayev, who bought the property through a chain of offshore companies, has not given his reasons for the purchase.
Sources suggested that it could have been an attempt to curry favour with the Duke, a frequent visitor to Kazakhstan in his role as Britain's special representative for trade and industry.
The Duke visited Mr Kulibayev in Kazakhstan as recently as April.
Enemies of Mr Kulibayev accuse him of fraudulently obtaining millions of pounds between 2000 and 2005 in relation to the sale of state-owned oil and gas assets in Kazakhstan, where he once worked in the oil ministry.
Earlier this year Kazakhstan's financial police investigated claims of corruption against him and found there was no case to answer. Swiss prosecutors began their own investigation in September, according to Bruno de Preux, a Geneva-based lawyer representing unnamed clients who have filed a complaint against Mr Kulibayev.
Mr de Preux said: "Mr Kulibayev and others are accused of using the Swiss banking system to dissimilate the fact that they have received the products of frauds committed in Kazakhstan."
A middleman representing the complainants told The Daily Telegraph: "The parties filing grievances are all domiciled in Kazakhstan and wish to keep their respective names anonymous given the severe risks of retaliation."
A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Switzerland would not "confirm nor comment on" whether it had begun an investigation.
The disclosure of the investigation seems to have been timed to embarrass Mr Kulibayev's father-in-law, the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Next week, the Kazakh capital Astana will welcome ministers from 56 countries, including Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, for a meeting of the Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe. Neither Mr Kulibayev nor his London representative were available for comment last night.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the investigation, saying the sale of the house in Sunninghill was "a private sale between two trusts".