Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Putin Faces ‘Information Attack’ on Wealth, Friends, Russia Says

The Kremlin accused a group of international journalists of preparing an “information attack” on President Vladimir Putin’s wealth and his ties to billionaire oligarchs in Russia.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is seeking comment on dozens of questions concerning “Putin personally” as well as “information about his family, childhood friends,” and business allies including Yuri Kovalchuk and Arkady Rotenberg, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. There are also “questions about some sort of offshore companies,” he said.

Other “amusing” requests include whether Putin has more than $40 billion and if he owns yachts, Peskov said. Russia has “available the full arsenal of legal means in the national and international arena to protect the honor and dignity of our president,” he said.
Peskov’s statements about the ICIJ follow his criticism of a BBC documentary in January in which U.S. Treasury official Adam Szubin said that Putin was corrupt and that the U.S. government had known about it for many years. Peskov called the statements lies. White House spokesman Josh Earnest echoed the allegations two days later, telling reporters that the Treasury’s assessment “best reflects the administration view.”
The ICIJ, founded in 1997, is a global network of investigative journalists who collaborate on in-depth investigations on issues including cross-border crime, corruption and the accountability of power, according to its website. It didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

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Kovalchuk is founding partner and the largest shareholder in Bank Rossiya, described as “the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation” by the U.S. Treasury in a 2014 statement that imposed sanctions against him and the bank over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis. The Treasury called Kovalchuk one of the president’s “cashiers” and said he’s “the personal banker for senior officials of the Russian Federation including Putin.”
Rotenberg and his brother Boris, who were Putin’s childhood friends and judo partners, were also put under U.S. sanctions as members of the president’s “inner circle.” They’ve “amassed enormous amounts of wealth during the years of Putin’s rule,” the U.S Treasury said.
Putin in 2008 denied that he has a $40 billion fortune as the wealthiest man in Europe, saying that journalists had picked the allegation “out of their noses and smeared it on their pieces of paper” at his annual news conference.
Peskov sought to pre-empt similar inquiries into Putin in May last year when he disclosed that unnamed U.S. and U.K. media had sent the Kremlin a series of questions about the president’s ties to businessman Gennady Timchenko.

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