What does US know about Russia President Vladimir Putin's oil wealth?

Mar 22 2014, 17:08 IST
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Vladimir Putin has faced accusations for years that he helped businessman Gennady Timchenko create world's No. 4 oil trading company Gunvor. Vladimir Putin has faced accusations for years that he helped businessman Gennady Timchenko create world's No. 4 oil trading company Gunvor.
SummaryVladimir Putin himself profits from the world's No. 4 oil trading company, Gunvor.

The most startling part of Washington's sanctions on Russian businessmen loyal to President Vladimir Putin may be a single sentence that contains an explosive allegation: that Putin himself profits from the world's No. 4 oil trading company, Gunvor.

Among the people the United States sanctioned on Thursday as part of its drive to put pressure on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine was businessman Gennady Timchenko, a long-time acquaintance of Putin and, until this week, co-owner of Geneva-based Gunvor, which trades nearly 3 percent of the world's oil.

In announcing the sanctions, the Treasury Department went a step further, adding a single sentence that hits squarely at one of the most controversial topics that Putin has faced in 13 years as the Kremlin ruler and head of the government.

"Timchenko activities in the energy sector have been directly linked to Putin. Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds," the statement said.

The U.S. Treasury Department declined further comment on what information it has about Putin's investments in Gunvor and how exactly he could have access to Gunvor's funds.

It provoked a quick and furious response. Gunvor said the statement was "outrageous" and "blatantly false."

"Gunvor categorically denies that Vladimir Putin has or has ever had any ownership or that he is a beneficiary of our business directly or indirectly," Gunvor said.

Gunvor has repeatedly said that Timchenko and Chief Executive Officer Torbjorn Tornqvist had equal stakes each of around 45 percent and the remaining 10 percent was owned by the staff.

Timchenko has repeatedly denied that Putin helped him create his vast business empire, yet because of his long and close relationship with Putin speculation has persisted.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the sanctions "unacceptable" and said the Kremlin was studying the impact of the inclusion of Timchenko on the list.

He did not comment on the allegations that Putin has investments in Gunvor.

Later in the day a Treasury official clarified that Timchenko's designation would not affect Gunvor since Timchenko owned less than 50 percent.

At the same time, Gunvor announced that Timchenko had sold his share to Tornqvist on Wednesday, a day earlier. Tornqvist now owns 87 percent, while 13 percent belongs to the employees.

Still, the growing concern among analysts is that the accusation, and the direct blow at Putin's closest allies, may provoke an even more dramatic response from Moscow - potentially even using its vast energy supplies as a weapon against the West.

Putin

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