The Kremlin has dismissed as “pure fiction” allegations that Russia’s President is “corrupt” and has been “masking” his actual wealth. Both claims came from a US Treasury official quoted in a BBC documentary.
The US Treasury’s Acting Under Secretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Adam Szubin, was picked by BBC as an expert for the channel’s unprompted investigation into Putin’s income.
“He supposedly draws a state salary of something like $110,000 a year. That is not an accurate statement of the man’s wealth, and he has long time training and practices in terms of how to mask his actual wealth,” Szubin told BBC’s Richard Bilton.
When asked by Bilton “If Putin is corrupt,” Szubin simply said: “In our view, yes.”
In fact, Szubin continued, the US government has known for “many, many years” that Putin has been “enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn’t view as friends using state assets.”
“Whether that’s Russia’s energy wealth, whether it’s other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don’t. To me, that is a picture of corruption,” Szubin said, though avoiding any specifics that would support his statement.
The Russian government has dismissed the allegations. When reached for a comment, President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the BBC that “none of these questions or issues needs to be answered, as they are pure fiction.”
The comments were taken by Bilton while travelling to conduct interviews for a BBC Panorama documentary on Putin’s “wallet” dubbed “Putin’s Secret Riches.”
This is not the first time US officials have commented on Putin’s wealth. However, this might be the first time the President has been directly accused by a US government body.
In 2014, the US Treasury peered into Putin’s finances, alleging that “Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds,” though it did not provide any evidence to back up its claims. Swiss-based Gunvor is the world’s fourth-largest oil trader.
The Kremlin has previously noted a general trend in Western media to use unsubstantiated allegations of corruption in an attempt to demonize the Russian government and president. Speaking to RT in May of 2015, the head of the presidential administration, Sergey Ivanov, referred to it as to a “sort of blacklisting process… mostly in the American and British papers.”
“I often read articles saying that President Putin and his ‘cronies’ – the language is not mine, but the papers’ – are fully corrupted, connected with criminality, they have huge profits which they successfully hide, and things like that,” Ivanov said at the time.
Holding himself up as an example contradicting those allegations, Ivanov wrote off the reports as “rubbish” that “can’t be respected by those who are serious enough to analyze the information.”
President Putin has been in the UK media spotlight since a public British inquiry into the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died from radioactive poisoning in 2006, recently alleged that the Russian leader had “probably approved” the killing of the former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agent.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied those findings, saying that the inquiry had been “neither transparent nor public” and resembled a “shadow play… conducted mostly behind doors, with classified documents and unnamed witnesses contributing to the result.”
Political analyst and writer Daniel Patrick Welch told RT there is something behind the timing of the accusations.
“It’s the same tired old game that they’ve been using for years,” Welch said, pointing out that there is neither any special insight nor actual new information presented by the BBC.
“I suppose it cannot be true, every single word of it,” the analyst said, pointing out that the CIA has been planting stories similar to “Putin’s $40 billion” against “everyone on the globe they perceived to be their enemy” for years.
The trick is being used to demonize anyone “who stands up and actually dares to criticize or push back against what the west is doing,” Welch said.