Putin's Blueberry Hill 'fails to pay charity bill'

 

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The Independent Online

When Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took to the stage in December to croon a heavily accented rendition of the Fats Domino hit "Blueberry Hill", the assembled Hollywood stars could at least be comforted by the fact that it was all for charity.

Three months after the event in St Petersburg, however, there is one small problem – the hospitals treating children with cancer that were expected to benefit from the gala's proceeds say they haven't received a kopek.

The event was attended by Hollywood stars such as Kevin Costner, Mickey Rourke and Sharon Stone, who could be seen clapping as Mr Putin soldiered his way through the song. Stone and Mr Putin also sang a duet. But while people allegedly paid up to £20,000 to attend the event, nobody seems to know what has happened to the money.

The mother of one 13-year-old girl who was due to receive funds for cancer treatment wrote to President Dmitry Medvedev's Twitter account to complain that no money had been received. "A very strange situation has arisen," she wrote in an open letter. "Before and after the concert there was talk about handing over funds, and now it appears that no one had promised anything."

Exactly who was behind the organisation of the event, and how much money was collected, remains murky. Officially, the concert was organised by a newly set-up foundation called Federation, run by Vladimir Kiselyov, a Soviet-era rock star.

A spokeswoman for Federation told Russian news agencies that the event had never been intended to raise money for the children, but was simply meant to raise awareness.

She said that tickets for the event had not been sold, and that the foundation did not even have a bank account. However Novaya Gazeta, the Russian newspaper which is part owned by The Independent's owner Alexander Lebedev, found people in St Petersburg who had paid for tickets and had been offered VIP seats for up to £20,000.

In a series of bad-tempered interviews this week, Mr Kiselyov told journalists that Federation had carried out all its responsibilities, and that children had received toys. He did not clarify whether medical equipment would also be provided to doctors, as originally expected, and said that journalists should stop trying to delve into the matter.

Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Interfax news agency that the Prime Minister participated only as a guest, and bore no responsibility for what happened with the money. He said that Mr Kiselyov was an old friend of Mr Putin's, something which Mr Kiselyov himself had earlier denied, adding to confusion.

He said that while he had occasionally "ridden on the same tram" as Mr Putin in earlier years in Leningrad, he was in no way a friend of the Prime Minister. Mr Peskov said that Mr Putin had been informed about the allegations around the money from the charity gala and would "follow extremely attentively what effect the charity concert will have".

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