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He 'Found His Thrill,' But The Cash Is Still Missing

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin belts out "Blueberry Hill."
Since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came to power more than a decade ago, he's been regularly shown on national television flying in jet fighters, riding horseback bare-chested, and throwing opponents in judo.

Many believe Putin's tough-guy image is key to his success as Russia's so-called national leader, someone who retained overall power even after he stepped down as president in 2008.

But Putin has also projected a softer side. He's been shown painting and, last December, playing piano during a St. Petersburg charity concert to raise money for children suffering from cancer and other illnesses.

'I Found My Thrill'

During the concert, a nervous-looking Putin sang the '50s pop classic "Blueberry Hill" to a group of politicians, businessmen, and international celebrities, including Kevin Costner, Gerard Depardieu, and Goldie Hawn.

Sharon Stone at the concert
The Hollywood stars laughed and sang along in support. As Putin wrapped up, actress Sharon Stone even flashed him a victory sign, prompting Kremlin critics to condemn the no doubt well-paid enthusiasm for Russia's authoritarian leader.

Now there are reports that money raised during the concert never reached the hospitals to which it was promised. The news surfaced after the mother of an ailing child tried to find out what happened to the funds.

"A very strange situation has arisen," she wrote in an open letter. "Before and after the concert there was talk about handing over funds [to hospitals], and now it appears that no one had promised anything."

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Interfax news agency that the prime minister had been informed about the allegations.

"We're aware of the Internet user's appeal in which she asks completely fair questions about what happened to the money raised at the charity event in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took part," he said.

Only A Guest

Peskov said that Putin was only a guest at the concert and not involved with the fund-raising. He declined to say who was responsible for handling the money but said the government is satisfied the "work is being carried out."

A spokeswoman for the Federation Foundation, which held the event, told the website that it was involved only in organizing the concert and had nothing to do with collecting or distributing the donated money.

Russian media reported that former musician Vladimir Kiselyov, believed to have been responsible for spearheading the event, warned reporters "not to look for anyone."

"No one will tell you anything," he said. "The Federation Foundation is doing its work and you should do yours."

written by Gregory Feifer, with agency reports
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