By Jamie Dettmer
The wedding ceremony and reception in February 2013 was a glitzy three-day affair at a ski resort near St. Petersburg, Russia.
The happy newlyweds were Yekaterina Tikhonova, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s youngest daughter, and Kirill Shamalov, the son of one of the Russian leader’s oldest friends. Among the wedding gifts received shortly after the nuptials was a sizable stake in petrochemical giant Sibur.
According to leaked emails unearthed by Russian investigative outlet iStories, a partner of the international investigative consortium Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Putin’s new son-in-law was able to buy petrochemical shares worth nearly $400 million for just $100.
The disclosure has prompted a wave of criticism from anti-corruption campaigners, who say the sweetheart deal is another example of Kremlin nepotism and how the Putin family and their associates and friends have enriched themselves during the Russian leader’s two-decade-long time in office.
“It’s simple,” tweeted Alexei Navalny, an opposition politician and anti-corruption activist. “Putin’s daughter gets married and the newlyweds receive the present of $380m.”
After marrying Tikhonova, Shamalov bought the 3.8% stake in Sibur through a web of offshore companies, according to the investigation. In 2008, Shamalov become one of Sibur’s vice presidents.
In a press statement, Dmitry Konov, head of Sibur’s board of directors, said, “The conditions for the sale of the shares in the deal were no different from those for a number of other managers. There were no exclusive conditions for KN Shamalov.” (KN are the first letters of Shamalov’s first name and patronymic)
In remarks to the RBC News website Tuesday, Konov said the real cost of the stake was far higher, including salary forfeited as part of the share acquisition deal and other unspecified conditions.
Private emails secured through a massive data breach also suggest the newlyweds went on a spending spree — buying a luxury mansion near Putin’s country residence on the outskirts of Moscow and a villa in the French resort of Biarritz. The furnishings were expensive — one carpet cost $65,000; some Japanese books cost $7,000, and a spa, around $350,000, according to the emails.
Kirill is the son of Nikolai Shamalov, a millionaire businessman who in the 1990s co-founded with Putin the Ozero community, a lakeside gated dacha (country house) cooperative near St. Petersburg. Many members of the Ozero cooperative assumed top positions in the Russian government and businesses after Putin became Russia’s president.
A year after his marriage to Tikhonova, the younger Shamalov secured a large loan from Kremlin-linked Gazprombank to buy an even larger 17% stake in Sibur, making him Russia’s youngest billionaire at the age of 32. His brother was deputy chairman at Gazprombank at the time the loan was granted. He and Tikhonova divorced in 2018.
Shamalov was among the officials and close associates of the Putin family who were sanctioned by Washington for alleged “malign” activities by Russia, including meddling in U.S. elections.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov dismissed reports Tuesday about the “wedding gift.”
“We still refrain from commenting on such publications,” he told reporters. “These rumors often have nothing to do with reality.”
Peskov dubbed the reports a smear campaign and said media investigations into Putin’s family are “lies that are unable to reach their goal.”
Reports of alleged financial enrichment by the Putin family and their associates have escalated in the past few months. One recent story alleged that former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva, who is reportedly Putin’s girlfriend, received a $10 million annual salary on her appointment as head of a pro-Kremlin media outlet. She had no previous media or management experience.
OCCRP said deciding to publish the email was a difficult decision.
“In the first place, the authenticity of documents received from an unknown party may be in question. To verify the Shamalov archive, the emails were first structured and indexed by OCCRP’s data analysts. Reporters from IStories then spent nearly a year verifying them,” the outlet said.
The email cache included more than 10,000 messages written and exchanged from 2003 to 2020. The emails cast light, OCCRP reporters said, on how the children and grandchildren of Putin associates and friends from St. Petersburg are amassing their wealth and power.
Following his marriage to Putin’s daughter, the emails suggest Shamalov was courted by Russian businessmen, who lined up with tempting offers and requests for help. Some even offered him free shares in their companies, hoping apparently to profit from the association. He also received appeals from businessmen asking him to get his father-in-law, the Russian president, to intervene in commercial disputes.
But what was accumulated was also lost. Following his divorce to Tikhonova, Shamalov reportedly gave up most of his Sibur shares.