The president, Brigitte Roux, began by recalling the international context in which this trial is taking place, asking the various parties to “leave any other concerns outside the courtroom” to focus “on the law”, even if everyone has “in mind the current events” in Ukraine.

The seven defendants, including four Ukrainians, a French lawyer and a Moldovan national, are accused of money laundering in an organized gang for having in 2015 bought the castle, the hotel in the village of Côte-d’Or and a Rolls Royce, for more of three million euros, with funds from a scam committed in 2015 in Ukraine, according to the prosecution.

The main defendant, Dmitri Malinovsky, gray sleeveless vest, thin glasses, dyed and slicked back hair, allegedly extracted more than 12 million euros from a fertilizer company (Dreymoor) whose head office is in Singapore and whose majority shareholder is a Russian national. The company is a civil party.

Mr. Malinovsky then pretended to be dead in Ukraine, and lived in France “under false identities”.

According to the alleged facts read by the president, the funds for the purchase of the castle were made available by one of the defendants, Olga Kalina, ex-mistress of Dmitri Malinovsky, who was then reimbursed on her account in Switzerland by five offshore companies with bank accounts in Latvia and Estonia. This is disputed by Olga Kalina’s lawyer, Me Stéphane Bonifassi.

Me Charlotte Plantin, who defends the Dreymoor company, claims to have “reconstituted” the laundering circuit of part of the money, which establishes a link between the funds of her client and those used to buy the castle.

First defendant questioned, Alexandru Arman, a Moldovan national who arrived in France in January 2015, explained to the court that he had worked as a driver for Dmitri Malinovsky, without an employment contract and paid in cash. He only knew his boss by the first name “Rodolphe”. This was denied by Mr. Malinovsky, who claimed to have introduced himself as “Dmitri” when Mr. Arman was hired in May 2015.

Mr. Arman then became manager in 2016 of the SARL which took care of the tourist exploitation of the castle: for him, it was Mr. Malinovsky who gave him “instructions” via a dedicated telephone, and asked him to pay personal expenses – including bills for luxury hotels and restaurants where he went with Olga Kalina, then his mistress – with money from the castle cashbox.

Allegations denied by the main defendant, who has always denied being the owner of the premises.

Seized by justice in 2018, the castle of La Rochepot has since been closed and empty: the furniture was sold last year at an auction in Beaune. A “heartbreak” for the inhabitants of this commune of Côte d’Or, who saw some 30,000 tourists a year thanks to the castle.