Russian President Vladimir Putin's circle of close friends and relatives controls a combined wealth of nearly $24 billion, although Putin has kept himself "officially" clean in terms of financial assets, says a joint report by a global investigative group and an independent Russian newspaper.
The report, titled Putin And The Proxies and published on October 24, says Putin's inner circle is formed by "a mix of family members, old friends, and friends who became family members," and their most lucrative businesses are either connected to the largely state-controlled oil and gas sector or linked to other state companies.
The report, which includes a list of the wealthiest members of Putin's inner circle, is the result of a joint effort by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) -- an international investigative reporting platform made of scores of nonprofit centers, journalists, and news organizations and independent Russian publication Novaya Gazeta.
"The one commonality in the group members' financial success "is their connection to the president," the report says, adding that a smaller, "more mysterious" portion of the group, which it calls "the proxies," provides no obvious justification for the secret fortunes the investigation has found they possess.
"They claim not to be businessmen, are not known to the public, and in some cases have little idea of the riches that are registered under their names," the investigation says, adding, "Again, they have one common attribute: they are all family or boyhood friends of Putin."
The report singles out three people among the proxies -- Mikhail Shelomov, Sergei Roldugin, and Pyotr Kolbin. Shelomov is a distant relative of Putin's, while Kolbin and Roldugin -- a butcher and a cellist, respectively -- are both Putin's childhood friends.
All three hold enormous wealth -- the investigation has found that Shelomov has amassed $573 million, Kolbin is worth $550 million, and Roldugin controls offshore firms which handled $2 billion -- but appear largely unaware of the firms they control, and "are at pains to explain the origins of their wealth." That is particularly the case with Shelomov, who the report says earns an annual salary of $8,500.
The report says that their personal connections to the president raise questions about whether their assets really belong to them -- or if they are merely proxies.
"It may really be Putin’s money. But in Russia, nothing is simple," the investigation concludes.
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin about the report.