President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been likened to an African plutocrat after a controversial political scientist claimed that he had acquired control of £20 billion in energy assets – enough to make him Europe’s richest man.
Stanislav Belkovsky, a colorful figure on the political scene, claimed that Mr Putin had made a multi-billion pound fortune by controlling stakes in three Russian energy companies.
The allegations – if true – would suggest that Mr Putin is one of the wealthiest men ever to hold public office.
Mr Belkovsky alleged that Mr Putin had acquired $40 billion during his eight years in power, through a network of front-men.
He compared the president to Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator who plundered Congo, and Ferdinand Marcos, the former ruler of the Philippines.
“Russia under Putin is not a version of modern democracy but a typical third world kleptocracy,” said Mr Belkovsky.
According to Mr Belkovsky, Mr Putin controls a 37 per cent stake in Surgutneftegaz, an oil exploration company, as well as 4.5 per cent of Gazprom, the state energy giant, and at least 50 per cent of Gunvor, a Swiss-based oil trading company that has won a series of state contracts.
Mr Belkovsky claimed his information had come from credible sources in the Kremlin – but admitted he had no documentary evidence.
“European and U.S. special services have access to these documents but I don’t,” he said.
Observers were skeptical.
“In a system of state capitalism and total corruption, it would be strange if Putin was not rich,” said Leonid Radzikhovsky, a political analyst.
“But the information about this treasure island seems a little exaggerated. Most Russians do not think about corruption at presidential level or do not want to think about it.”