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Putin Europe’s ‘richest’ man

Moscow, Dec. 22: President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been likened to an African plutocrat after a controversial political scientist claimed that he had acquired control of £20 billion in energy assets — enough to make him Europe’s richest man.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a colourful figure on the political scene, claimed that Putin had made a multi-billion pound fortune by controlling stakes in three Russian energy companies.

The allegations — if true — would suggest that Putin is one of the wealthiest men ever to hold public office. Belkovsky alleged that Putin had acquired $40 billion during his eight years in power, through a network of front-men.

He compared the President to Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator who plundered Congo, and Ferdinand Marcos, the former ruler of the Philippines.

“Russia under Putin is not a version of modern democracy but a typical third world kleptocracy,” said Belkovsky.

But Putin's spokesman denounced the claims. “It’s nothing but trash,” said Dmitry Peskov.

“Certainly it has nothing to do with seriousness; it has nothing to do with professionalism. It’s just trash.”

According to Belkovsky, Putin controls a 37 per cent stake in Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company, as well as 4.5 per cent of Gazprom, the state energy giant, and at least 50 per cent of Gunvor, a Swiss-based oil trading company that has won a series of state contracts.

Belkovsky claimed his information had come from credible sources in the Kremlin — but admitted he had no documentary evidence. “European and US special services have access to these documents but I don’t,” he said.

Observers were sceptical.

“In a system of state capitalism and total corruption, it would be strange if Putin was not rich,” said Leonid Radzikhovsky, a political analyst.

“But the information about this treasure island seems a little exaggerated. Most Russians do not think about corruption at presidential level or do not want to think about it.” Radzikhovsky added: “It is difficult to understand Belkovsky. He is known as a source of confusing information and it is hard to treat it seriously.

The endgame of Putin’s presidency, and his plans for the succession, have been thrown off balance by infighting between rival Kremlin clans. At least three groups, two led by ex-KGB officials, have been in open warfare since October.

Far from being watertight, Putin’s Kremlin now leaks like a sieve.

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