Vladimir Putin just secured himself another six-year term in power following Russian elections Sunday, and now is a good time to revisit just how much secretive wealth is propping up the Russian strongman.
Putin’s riches are buried in a complex web of proxies – and that’s no surprise for a former KGB agent.
In February, ahead of presidential elections, the Russian Central Election Commission released its ‘official’ disclosures of Putin’s wealth, saying he earned roughly $673,000 between 2011 and 2016, based on his average yearly salary of around $112,000.
Boosting this modest income was a declared $241,000 in 13 banks accounts, an 800-square-foot apartment in St. Petersburg, 230 shares in Bank Saint Petersburg and two Soviet-era sports cars. They even disclosed a 2009 Lada, for good measure.
Critics beg to differ, of course, and insist that a few big-ticket items have been left off the disclosure list.
Former Russia fund manager Bill Browder says Putin is worth $200 billion. If that’s true, it would mean that Putin is the richest man in the world – worth more than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, combined.
Browder, the former CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July last year, as a key element of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
Browder had hired Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky to investigate official corruption, but Magnitsky died in Russian custody in 2009, leading to the U.S. Magnitsky Act sanctions in 2012.
According to Browder, with the arrest of Russia’s then more powerful oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in July 2003, Putin became the “biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated.
“After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, ‘Fifty percent’. He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 percent for Vladimir Putin personally,” Browder told the Senate.
Browder told the senate that Magnitsky was murdered to cover up the theft of $230 billion from the Russian treasury of which Putin was a beneficiary—but that’s only the fluff of a much larger fortune, he said.
“Recent revelations from the Panama Papers have shown that Putin’s closest childhood friend, Sergei Roldugin, a famous cellist, received $2 billion of funds from Russian oligarchs and the Russian state. I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions,” Browder said.
Another key figure to have put a number on Putin’s estimated wealth was Stanislav Belkovsky, a former mid-level Kremlin advisor who claimed in 2007that Putin was worth at least $40 billion. That wouldn’t make him the richest man in the world, but it would have put him in the Forbes top 10 at the time.
In 2013, Belkovsky estimated Putin’s wealth at $70 billion.
As Putin takes his seat for another six years, no one can verify his financial assets, still—and anyone who tries will hit a roadblock, or worse. But the Russian president displays more wealth than a Lada and $112,000 allow for. In other words, his suits cost more than his salary, and that’s just the beginning.
The list of alleged assets is along one, but here are the highlights:
A $1-billion palace on the Black Sea, built with state money, according to the BBC:
Also on the alleged list is a $500-million yacht, plus three others, along with 60 planes – none of which have been officially photographed.