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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian Banker Casts Doubt on Reports of Putin's Secret Wealth

By Isabela Cocoli 21 September 2016

A Russian banker has reportedly tried to argue that President Vladimir Putin does not have vast secret wealth because he is "very much dedicated to his job."

In an interview with U.S. television channel CNBC in Moscow, Andrey Kostin, chief executive of Russian state-owned bank VTB, cast doubts on a $2 billion money trail revealed in financial documents known as the Panama papers that also link close Putin aides with offshore firms.

"I don't believe that Mr. Putin has 2 billion, because even if he wanted to have, I don't know how he is going to spend them," CNBC quoted Kostin as saying in a summary of the interview published Tuesday on its website.

"I think those people are doomed for the rest of their life to live a life where everybody will be screening them or watching them and I don't think he is that kind of person," he said.

According to Kostin, Putin "is very much dedicated to his job. He really wants to change Russia."

Kostin said he does not think that "earning the private wealth is something" among Putin's priorities in life. He said "nobody ever saw this billion or even millions of Putin's money."

By assets, VTB Bank is Russia's second-biggest after Sberbank. The state has large stakes in both banks with 60.9 percent in VTB. This has led to suggestions about government interference, which Kostin denied.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in April that suspicious payments made by "Putin's cronies may have, in some cases, been intended as payoffs, possibly in exchange for Russian government aid or contracts."

The secret documents suggested that much of the money originally came from a bank in Cyprus. The ICIJ said "that, at the time, was majority-owned by the Russian state-controlled VTB Bank."

The documents also showed dozens of transactions involving people or companies linked to Putin from 1977 through 2015, including his old friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin and the wife of Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

Putin has admitted that information about Roldugin was accurate while insisting it showed no illegal activity.

Roldugin, who runs the Music House in St Petersburg, has said all the money was spent on musical instruments for talented young Russians. He dismissed any suggestion that he was very wealthy or was safeguarding money or assets for Putin.

In a media conference in April, Putin spokesman Peskov said Russia had "available the full arsenal of legal means in the national and international arena to protect the honor and dignity of our president." The question remains whether Andrey Kostin is part of that "arsenal."

ICIJ, in cooperation with the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations, reported in April 2016 that 11.5 million documents it obtained from Panama's Mossack Fonseca law firm showed that politicians and public officials, including 12 current and former world leaders, were involved in tax dodging.

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