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Disco Inferno: French, Russian Pop Stars In Bizarre Extortion Row

French composer and arranger Didier Marouani (left) has accused flamboyant Russian pop star Filipp Kirkorov (right) of plagiarizing some of his work.

MOSCOW -- Russian pop star Filipp Kirkorov is catching flak after an aging French disco star was detained by police at a Moscow bank in an apparent setup involving pro-Kremlin pranksters.

Didier Marouani, the 63-year-old founder of the French disco band Space, was released in the early hours of November 30 by Moscow police -- who reportedly later apologized for detaining him and his lawyer at a Sberbank branch.

The pair had gone to the bank the day earlier expecting to conclude an out-of-court settlement with the 49-year-old Kirkorov, whom Marouani has accused of plagiarizing Space's 2003 track Symphonic Space Dream in the melody of the Russian artist's single Zhestokaya Lyubov (Cruel Love).

Space's Symphonic Space Dream:

Filip Kirkorov's Zhestokaya Lyubov (Tough/Cruel Love):

As video shot outside the bank reveals, however, Marouani found himself being bundled into a police car in the full view of photographers.

A lawyer for Kirkorov said Marouani and his lawyer, Igor Trunov, were detained for allegedly trying to extort 1 million euros ($1.05 million) from Kirkorov, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.

Well-known rights activist Aleksei Navalny was quick to tweet a video of the dramatic arrest:

Moscow police told local news agencies that they responded after Kirkorov had gone to them on November 29 with accusations that Marouani was trying to extort money from him and harm his reputation.

In the early hours of November 30, pro-Kremlin pranksters Leksus and Vovan entered the bizarre story, claiming in an interview with the Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) daily that, posing as Kirkorov, they had spoken with Marouani ahead of the bank meeting and offered him an out-of-court settlement of 1 million euros.

Leksus told MK that as soon as they saw signs that a settlement was possible, they sent their correspondence with Marouani to Kirkorov.

The MK interviewer repeatedly asked prankster Leksus why they had apparently targeted a relatively little-known Frenchman instead of the Russian star Kirkorov, but received no answer beyond: "to see his reaction."

The interviewer dragged prankster Leksus over the coals: "I feel really sorry for Marouani. He visited us before in April, I interviewed him. He was a really nice person. He likes Russia, supports our space projects, and is sincerely interested in our country and supports it with all his spirit."

'Shaming Our Country'

The sentiment was echoed by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, founder and leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democrat Party, who assailed Kirkorov. He told the pro-Kremlin Life News site that Kirkorov at least should have warned Marouani that it was a prank, and that he should be "ashamed" for letting it happen.

"The Frenchman comes to receive his money, and we practically place him under arrest. Why are we shaming our country? Kirkorov's lawyer knew that it was a profanation, nonsense," Zhirinovsky said. "Well, then tell the Frenchmen that these are pranksters, and not to come [to the bank], that it was not Kirkorov holding these negotiations. This is unacceptable and Kirkorov should be ashamed."

The flamboyant Kirkorov appeared at the evening bank meeting in sunglasses, giving a statement in which he thanked Russian police for “defending my honor and dignity that was called into question by foreign musicians who wrongly accused me of something I didn't do." He said that there had been no promise to pay out a settlement because he and his managers do not correspond with "extortionists."

Marouani on November 30 gave a press conference in which he said he intends to have Kirkorov brought to account for submitting false allegations of extortion.

He also said he would prove the messages proposing a pay-out had in fact come from Kirkorov himself -- and not from pranksters. He said 60 messages from the correspondence had mysteriously disappeared from his inbox, but that he had kept copies and sent them to his manager, TASS reported.