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Russia’s Putin scoffs at rumors of huge wealth

Russian President Vladimir Putin scoffed on Thursday at reports he had amassed a personal fortune during his eight years in power.

“I am rich because the people of Russia twice entrusted me with leading a great country like Russia. I believe this is my greatest wealth,” Putin said at his annual news conference, the first time he has addressed the issue of his personal wealth. Western news media last year quoted a Moscow-based political analyst, Stanislav Belkovsky, as saying Putin owned big stakes in Russian oil firms that had made him extremely wealthy. Belkovsky said his information came from Kremlin sources but did not produce documentary evidence. Looking relaxed during the marathon question-and-answer session, Putin chuckled, when asked if he was the richest man in Europe and what the source of his fortune had been. “As for various rumors about my personal wealth ... that is empty talk which shouldn’t even be discussed,” he said. “I’ve seen some papers...That is just rubbish, just excavated from someone’s nose and then spread on those bits of paper.”

Putin will step down in May following the March 2 presidential election. In a declaration filed with electoral authorities last October, Putin said he possessed a small apartment in St Petersburg, two old Soviet-made cars, a small plot of land outside Moscow and $149,000 in bank accounts. Russia has grown rich from energy and commodity exports during Putin’s time in power and many of the world’s richest people are Russian. While expensive sports cars whizz around Moscow and the elite holiday in Europe’s top ski resorts, many Russians remain locked in poverty. (Reuters)