For those of you who have not yet seen Sergey Kolesnikov’s open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev regarding allegations of corruption by Vladimir Putin’s entourage to extort upwards of a billion dollars to build a personal palace on the Black Sea near Sochi, please waste no time in clicking over to this site.
David Ignatius of the Washington Post had the opportunity to examine Kolesnikov’s notes, and today published a powerful article on the allegations, which may prove to be somewhat more damaging that the Oleg Shvartsmann fiasco of some years ago, and more personal than the cables of Wikileaks. I believe that we can safely and pre-emptively assume that the Kremlin will immediately launch a campaign to discredit Kolesnikov, so just watch as they invent some sort of corruption or tax evasion charge, or something worse. Keep your eyes on this story.
Kolesnikov is one of those brave souls a journalist meets occasionally, who decides to expose what he sees as wrongdoing, regardless of the personal risks. I met him this month and reviewed his notes and other documents supporting his charges. The Russian businessman, who became wealthy through various ventures, including a medical-supply company called Petromed, appears to have nothing to gain personally by attacking Putin – and much to lose. That boosts his credibility in my eyes.
The financing of Putin’s hideaway, as Kolesnikov explains it, is a complicated story that centers on a man named Nikolai Shamalov. He is an old St. Petersburg friend of Putin’s, with whom he shared a dacha cooperative property there during the 1990s. A Dec. 23, 2009, story in Novya Gazeta named Shamalov as one of Putin’s 13 influential business “friends.” An attempt to reach Shamalov through Putin’s spokesman was unsuccessful.
Kolesnikov says he began working with Shamalov in 2000 after Putin became president. The initial plan was to use contributions from Russian businessmen to purchase medical equipment for clinics in St. Petersburg, with 35 percent of the contract payments diverted to offshore accounts. Millions of dollars of medical equipment was indeed purchased but more than $148 million of these donations allegedly wound up under Shamalov’s control, according to the open letter.