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A Man Of Modest Means? Putin Says He Made Just $133,000 In 2015

Kremlin opponents and Western officials have long accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using his power to accrue massive wealth and lavish real estate, including a sprawling Black Sea estate widely referred to as "Putin's Palace."

Officially, of course, the Russian leader’s pockets are considerably shallower, as evidenced by his income disclosures released by the Kremlin on April 15 showing that he earned 8.9 million rubles ($133,900) in 2015, up from the 7.6 million rubles ($115,000) he reported last year.

There was no mention of the Baroque-style seaside mansion allegedly built for him in the southern city of Gelendzhik, to which the Kremlin has denied any link. Instead, Putin declared ownership only of a 77-square-meter apartment, a 1,500-square-meter plot of land, and an 18-square-meter garage. The declaration also showed that he uses a 153-square-meter apartment.

Nor did Putin declare any expensive foreign cars favored by Russia’s political and financial elite. His disclosure shows that he owns two rare Soviet-made automobiles, a Russian-made Lada Niva off-road vehicle, and a boat trailer. But no sign that he owns a boat -- although a 2012 report co-authored by opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead near the Kremlin last year, said Putin has access to a fleet of four yachts, including one with a waterfall and a wine cellar.

The new disclosure echoes similarly modest income declarations by Putin in previous years. But its release comes amid heightened scrutiny of Putin’s wealth, including the leak of a trove of financial and legal documents detailing the offshore financial dealings of his close associates.

Investigative reports based on the documents, known as the Panama Papers, show that his close friend, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, owned secretive offshore firms through which some $2 billion moved.

Putin was not named in the documents, but Kremlin critics allege that Putin may be an ultimate beneficiary of this and other offshore cash -- suggestions he and the Kremlin vigorously reject.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said that Putin “has investments” in Gunvor, a company formerly owned by his associate Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire, and “may have access to Gunvor funds.” Gunvor and the Kremlin deny these claims.

Adam Szubin, the Treasury’s acting secretary for terrorism and financial crimes, told the BBC in January that Putin has been amassing wealth outside the public view.

"He supposedly draws a state salary of something like $110,000 a year," Szubin said. "That is not an accurate statement of the man's wealth, and he has longtime training and practices in terms of how to mask his actual wealth."

Putin’s 2015 income declaration shows he fared worse financially last year than other Russian officials, including his own spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov over the past year has come under withering criticism for pricey accoutrements -- most notably a wristwatch allegedly worth some $600,000 -- luxury real estate, and vacations that Kremlin foes say are far beyond the means of a civil servant.

Peskov earned 36.7 million rubles ($552,500) in 2015, according to his declaration, up nearly fourfold from the 9.2 million he reported last year. His wife, 2006 Olympic ice dancing champion Tatiana Navka, earned 89 million rubles, according to the declaration.

However modest Putin’s official wealth may be, he does appear to have extremely rich relatives. The Russian version of Forbes magazine reported this week that Kirill Shamalov, widely reported to be Putin’s son-in-law, has become Russia’s youngest billionaire at the age of 34.

Based on his official income, Putin also has a way to go to match the up to $2 billion that the Panama Papers tied to offshore companies held by Roldugin, reportedly a godfather to one of Putin’s daughters.

“He needs 17,000 years to earn as much as the cellist Roldugin did by busking in pedestrian underpasses,” Russian Twitter user Sergei Guryanov quipped.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

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