Discovering the value of the fortune of Vladimir Putin, the self-declared president for life of Russia, has been a mystery to the world for decades. The issue is so sensitive that anyone who ventures to investigate the value in question is not without reprisals. This is what happened to Paul Klebnikon, the editor of the magazine ‘Forbes’ in Russia, who was shot in the streets of Moscow in 2004, when he was trying to find out how a public official, even for life – as Vladimir Putin declared himself – he may have amassed a fortune on a par with the greatest Russian oligarchs. But, based on the data collected over the last few years, it now puts forward three hypotheses.
Khodorkovsky Model Theory
It’s a thesis that dates back to 1997, when the investigation into Russian billionaires began, culminating in 2002 with Klebnikov’s profile of a rising Russian oligarch named Mikhail Khodorkovsky. At the time, his company, Yukos, accounted for 17% of Russia’s oil production and was seen as having significant influence in the Kremlin. Considered the richest man in Russia, he had a fortune valued at 3.7 billion dollars (something like 3.2 billion euros). One of his former employees had once been minister of fuel and energy. Another was Putin’s then chief of staff. The following year, Khodorkovsky’s fortune simply doubled. But in October 2003, he was arrested after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion.
According to Forbes, there was little doubt that Putin was behind his arrest, other than the freezing of his fortune and the eventual dissolution of his company. Khodorkovsky’s fate turned out to be a powerful lesson for other Russian oligarchs. But it left a question in the air: how much of Khodorkovsky’s fortune did Putin take for himself?
According to Bill Browder, an American financier who has conducted a lot of business in Russia – and who is even behind the law that allows specific sanctions to be imposed on human rights violators through the freezing of their assets, Putin not only had Khodorkovsky arrested but also made a deal with the main oligarchs of the country. “The deal was: ‘Give me 50% of your wealth and I’ll let you keep the other 50%,'” said Browder, quoted by Klebnikov, noting that anyone who didn’t would not only be left without the money but would be sent to prison.
Based on this, Browder estimated, even in 2007, that Putin’s fortune was worth about 175 billion euros, which would have made him the richest person in the world at the time. A theory that Pyotr Aven – who runs Russia’s largest private sector bank – ended up giving credit, especially after he was warned that “any suggestions or criticisms coming from Putin about the ongoing investigations were implicit directives” and that there would be consequences for Aven “if he did not follow them.”
Theory of the “mafia model”
Another scenario argues that Putin’s fortune came about by helping his close circle of friends and family, giving them government contracts or ownership in companies. In exchange, supporters of this theory maintain, Putin would have accepted cash bribes or stakes in these same companies.
Put this way, it is very similar to what is considered a mafia structure, in which some are in perpetual debt to the boss – in this case, Putin. According to Swedish economist Anders Aslund, the author of the book “Chronic Capitalism of Russia 2019”, Putin has recruited not only family members but childhood friends, bodyguards and the like to guard his money. In return, Putin was getting a share of his profits. Aslund estimates, each of them has between 440 million and 1.76 billion euros. Result? “The richer you are, the more dependent you become,” says Aslund.
Theory of “Barrogance”
In short, this last hypothesis advances that, given the lack of evidence to the contrary, it is even possible that Putin has little money, but simply likes people to think otherwise because it suggests power, continues the Russian editor of Forbes.
And that, as Klebnikov explains, is certainly true, at least on paper. Released annually by the Kremlin, Putin’s income in 2020 is around 123,000 euros – in addition to the meager possessions he assumes he has: three cars, a trailer, two apartments, a garage, and two parking spaces.
There is, it should be noted, no mention of his considerable collection of luxury wristwatches or the famous “Putin Palace” which he allegedly also owns, but has always denied. According to some experts, this heritage could explain why Putin would not need personal wealth. “Putin simply has the whole country at his disposal,” as Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky wrote in 2013. “Just a snap of his fingers and state-owned companies will hand over goods to his friends at bargain prices.”
Source: with agencies