The $40bn question: how much is Putin worth?

Questions are being asked about whether Vladimir Putin has secretly amassed a multibillion-dollar fortune as turf warfare between the different clans fighting inside the Kremlin intensifies before he leaves the presidency next year.

After several episodes of mud-slinging aimed at various Kremlin figures, the latest target could well be the President himself. Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst, claims that Mr Putin, who has put friends and allies in charge of key state-controlled companies, has a secret $40bn 20bn) personal fortune, reportedly in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

If the claims are true, it would make Mr Putin the richest man in Russia. Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was unavailable to comment on the allegations which surfaced in The Guardian yesterday.

But Mr Belkovsky, who said that Mr Putin controls shares in Gazprom and other energy companies through secret European accounts, is a controversial figure. In 2003, he released a report stating that the head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was planning a coup. Shortly afterwards, Mr Khodorkovsky was arrested and is now in prison.

"Belkovsky is a provocateur," said Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst. "I don't know why he said this or if he's working for someone, but we're likely to see more ... of this kind of claim as the elections approach."

Earlier this month, a little-known businessman, Oleg Shvartsman, claimed in an interview with Kommersant newspaper that he was controlling a multi-billion-dollar fund for people close to Mr Putin and their relatives. He said he was conducting a "velvet reprivatisation" aimed at forcibly acquiring assets that had previously been bought from the state at unfairly low prices, and that his boss was Igor Sechin, a close Putin ally. Mr Sechin served as a KGB operative in Angola and Mozambique, and is believed to head the siloviki faction of Kremlin hardliners. Despite being chairman of one of Russia's biggest oil companies and heading the Presidential Directorate for Communication and Public Feedback, he has made just two public appearances in eight years.

But analysts say that while all of Mr Shvartsman's claims are quite plausible, it is unthinkable that anyone really working for Mr Sechin would go public in this manner, and as such the interview could have been a deliberate ploy to ruin his reputation. The dispute is not limited to words. The head of Russia's drugs control body, whose deputy was arrested in October, has warned that the security services are embroiled in an "all-against-all" battle that could lead to tragedy.

Alexei Kudrin, the Finance Minister, also saw his deputy, Sergei Storchak, arrested on corruption charges this month. Mr Kudrin, seen as a leading member of the liberal clan, has insisted that his deputy is innocent, and analysts say the arrest is part of the larger turf war. The battle has "nothing to do with ideology", says Mr Makarkin, and is all about power and influence. Others, including the journalist and talk-show host Yulia Latynina, are certain that the motivating factor is money.

What's not in doubt is that the people around Mr Putin control vast sums of money. And with Russia run by former KGB agents people who are rather good at keeping secrets it is unlikely that any concrete evidence will emerge to back up Mr Belkovsky's claims.

But with uncertainty still rife over the future face of Russian politics after the presidential elections in March, more of this hidden battle is likely to spill into the public domain.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk