In an unusual action targeting a foreign leader’s personal fortune, the US and its European allies announced additional penalties on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
However, the sanctions may have only a symbolic value. Putin is thought to have billions of dollars in personal wealth, but little is known about how much he has or where it is.
According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ 2016 “Panama Papers” revelation, Putin’s assets — largely property — have almost no legal trail and are hidden behind complicated financial schemes orchestrated by his confidants. A $100 million mega-yacht and a Black Sea house purportedly built for Putin’s personal use are among the luxury associated to Putin’s friends and family but never directly to him.
On paper, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be a lowly bureaucrat. Putin revealed in 2018 that he owned an 800-square-foot condominium in St. Petersburg, as well as two Soviet-era automobiles and an off-road truck, in an official income declaration. Putin’s annual income, according to the Kremlin, is around $140,000 – hardly a low sum in Russia, but not enough to keep him wearing his rotating collection of fancy timepieces.
In 2018, Bill Browder, a Russian financier who became a vocal critic of Putin, told CNN that “Putin’s conspicuous watch collection is worth multiples of his official income.” “The fortune was obtained through extortion and enormous misappropriation of public cash.”
Estimated value of $200 billion
Browder testified before the US Senate in 2017 that the Russian leader’s wealth is estimated to be approximately $200 billion, making him one of the world’s wealthiest individuals.
One explanation for Putin’s wealth is that he has threatened Russia’s oligarchs with arrest or worse unless they hand over cash or shares in their businesses to him.
Even still, tracing his fortune has been nearly difficult. Putin’s net worth is “perhaps the most elusive enigma in wealth hunting,” according to Forbes magazine, which makes it a fundamental goal to investigate the personal fortunes of the world’s elite.
However, “we may presume that US and EU intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies have been tracing his assets for years,” according to Ross S. Delston, an anti-money-laundering expert.
“There would be a lot of targets to strike if the US government and the EU became serious about going after his assets,” Delston argues. “They’d be all over the place… certainly within the EU and US borders.”
But, if Putin’s assets were frozen, would this discourage him from continuing his onslaught on Ukraine? In all likelihood, no.
“We’re not talking about putting a stop to anything,” says Delston. “We’re talking about putting him in his place.”
That isn’t to imply the sanctions aren’t effective. They may only make a minor dent in Putin’s overall fortune, but they cause damage to his credibility on the international scene.
The US Treasury Department said Friday that “President Putin joins a very limited group that includes despots such as Kim Jong Un, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Bashar al-Assad,” emphasising how rare it is for the US to personally target a head of state with penalties.
Furthermore, according to Delston, the sanctions’ actual impact on Putin will be severe.
“Even when they have a lot of cash on hand, high-net-worth individuals have a strong attachment to their possessions.”
Ivana Kottasová of CNN contributed to this report.
Putin is said to be paid $140,000 per year by the Kremlin. An 800-square-foot apartment, a trailer, and three cars are among his publicly stated assets.
However, some experts believe he could be the world’s wealthiest man, with assets worth up to $200 billion.
Collection of high-end timepieces
Putin is frequently photographed wearing high-end expensive timepieces that cost several times his alleged annual income.
He has been seen wearing a $60,000 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch, as well as a $500,000 A. Lange & Sohne Toubograph and other high-end timepieces.
Mansion on the Black Sea worth $1.4 billion
Putin is said to own a magnificent 190,000-square-foot home perched above a rock overlooking the Black Sea. This beachfront property is said to be the country’s largest private residence, and it serves as his own castle, affectionately known as “Putin’s Country Cottage.”
The estate is Putin’s playground, with frescoed ceilings, a marble swimming pool lined with statues of Greek gods, a 27,000-square-foot guest house, spas with traditional hammams, a musical parlour, dressing rooms for all of his staff, an amphitheatre, a state-of-the-art ice hockey rink, a Vegas-style casino, a nightclub with stripper poles, a barroom showcasing more than $100,000
The majority of the estate is said to be outfitted by Citterio Atena, an exclusive luxury Italian company, including Louis XIV style sofas, $500,000 in dining room furnishings, and a $54,000 bar table. It also includes luxury $850 Italian toilet brushes and $1,250 toilet paper holders in the bathrooms.
In addition to the lavish furniture, the property’s landscaping is maintained by a 40-person workforce at a cost of $2 million each year.
Lanfranco Cirillo, an Italian architect, built the Black Sea Mansion, which cost $1.4 billion to build. According to a Reuters investigation, the funds for this lavish project were allegedly laundered through the country’s 1.3-trillion-ruble “Health” national project, in which the government purchased expensive medical equipment from a company owned by Putin’s friends Shamalov and Gorelov at a significantly higher price than the market rate. According to records, the two men moved $56 million to a Belize company’s Swiss bank accounts. The Belize account then moved around $48 million to a Medea Investment account, which is owned by Cirillo personally. According to the Moscow Times, Shamalov, Gorelov, and Cirillo have all disputed the charges.
The Kremlin claims that the palace belongs to a wealthy businessman and denies that Putin owns it. According to Russian commentators, no businessman can have properties secured by the FSB (Russia’s federal security service) with a no-fly zone over them.
Airplanes, helicopters, and automobiles
Aside from the Black Sea Mansion, 19 other homes, and 700 cars, Putin is said to own 58 planes and helicopters, including a $716 million plane called “The Flying Kremlin” with a gold-plated toilet. It’s not surprising, given his fondness for opulent neoclassical architecture.
He also has a $100 million megayacht created by a Russian nuclear submarine builder to keep his options open by land, air, or sea.
Blackmail worth $200 billion
Putin amassed much of his fortune after a Moscow court imprisoned businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky for fraud and tax evasion in 2003, according to financier Bill Browder, who testified to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017.
“Following Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs approached Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid being imprisoned with him. Putin’s response looked to be, “50 percent.” He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the Russian presidential administration, but 50 percent for Vl “”I personally admire Putin.”
On top of that, in 2016, the Panama Papers exposed a $2 billion network of hidden offshore dealings and loans pointing to Putin.
But, of course, Vladimir denies all of these charges, admitting only to a different kind of wealth:
“I am the wealthiest man in the world, not just in Europe: I am a collector of emotions. I am fortunate in that the Russian people have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a major country like Russia. That, I believe, is my best asset.”
Despite all of the evidence and testimony stacked against him, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to portray himself as a conscientious bureaucrat living a modest, middle-class existence.