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Russian Banker Casts Doubt on Reports of Putin's Secret Wealth

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Sept. 21, 2016.

A Russian banker has reportedly tried to argue that President Vladimir Putin does not have vast secret wealth because he is "very much dedicated to his job."

During an interview in Moscow with CNBC television, part of the U.S. NBC network, Russian banker Andrey Kostin cast doubt on a $2 billion money trail leading to Putin, as revealed in financial documents known as the Panama Papers.

"I don't believe that Mr. Putin has $2 billion, because even if he wanted to have, I don't know how he is going to spend them," Kostin, the chief executive of Russia's state-owned VTB bank, said in a portion of the interview published online Tuesday.

The banker said he does not think that "earning private wealth" is one of Putin's personal priorities, and that no one has ever seen evidence of such wealth possessed by the Russian president.

According to Kostin, Putin “is very much dedicated to his job. He really wants to change Russia.”

By assets, VTB Bank is Russia's second-biggest, after Sberbank, which also is state-owned. The government has a 60.9 percent stake in VTB, but Kostin denied the Kremlin has influenced his bank's operations.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin waits for arrival of Japan's prime minister at his Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi.
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin waits for arrival of Japan's prime minister at his Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in April that suspicious payments made by “Putin’s cronies may have, in some cases, been intended as payoffs, possibly in exchange for Russian government aid or contracts.”

The secret documents suggested that much of the money originally came from a bank in Cyprus, the ICIJ said, “that, at the time, was majority-owned by the Russian state-controlled VTB Bank.”

The documents also showed dozens of transactions, over more than a decade, involving people or companies linked to Putin, who has been in power at the Kremlin since 2000. Among those identified in the document were Putin's longtime friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin, and the wife of Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

Putin has admitted there were transactions between him and Roldugin, but said there was no evidence of illegal activity.

Roldugin has dismissed any suggestion that he was either a custodian or a conduit for Putin's money or assets.

ICIJ, in cooperation with the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations, reported five months ago that 11.5 million documents it obtained from Panama's Mossack Fonseca law firm provided evidence that many politicians and public officials worldwide used the firm's offshore entities for money-laundering and tax-dodging. The Panama Papers said 12 current or former world leaders were among those who worked with Mossack Fonseca.

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