Russian President Vladimir Putin found time away from chastising the foreign policies of his G8 allies to deny accusations that he stole a $25,000 (£16,000) diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring – but offered to buy a replacement anyway.
According to reports in The New York Post, Robert Kraft, the owner of American Football team New England Patriots, insinuated at an event last Thursday that Putin stole his Super Bowl ring.
“I took out the ring and showed it to Putin. And he put it on and he goes, ‘I could kill someone with this ring’,” Mr Kraft allegedly said. “I put my hand out and he puts it in his pocket and three KGB guys got around him and he walked out.”
But the football magnate’s recollection of the exchange has changed considerably since the event in 2005. The ring changed hands eight years ago while Mr Kraft was visiting St Petersburg with a business delegation that met with Putin, at which time he said he gave the ring to the Russian President as a gift.
However, according to reports of Thursday’s gala, Mr Kraft said he had an "emotional tie to the ring" and wanted it back, but that the White House had intervened and said it would be in the interest of US-Russian relations to say it was a gift.
The fumbled handover attracted fresh controversy when Putin’s spokesman answered questions on the incident after arriving with the President in London for a meeting with David Cameron yesterday.
“Back in 2005 I stood behind the President’s back and I saw how that ring was presented to him. All that talk about some kind of pressure that was exerted on him [Kraft] should be the subject of a detailed talk with psychoanalysts,” Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press.
“At the same time, I am aware the gentleman is feeling such a horrible pain about the 2005 loss. The President will be ready to send him another ring as a gift, which he [Putin] can buy with his own money.”
The ring itself is on display in the Kremlin library in Moscow along with other gifts presented to Russian leaders, where it looks set to stay after a spokesman for the Kraft group released a statement that appears to concede Mr Kraft’s recollection is something of an embellishment.
“It’s a humorous, anecdotal story that Robert retells for laughs,” Stacey James said yesterday. “He loves that his ring is at the Kremlin and, as he stated in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin.”
He went on to say that “an added benefit from the attention this story gathered was the creation of some Patriots fan clubs in Russia”. Mr Kraft’s team has won three Super Bowl trophies in 2001, 2003 and 2004 – a winning streak that seemingly ended when the owner’s third ring was exported to Eastern Europe.