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New Book Poses Question of Putin's Links with Underworld

Published: October 7, 2003 (Issue # 908)


How involved was President Vladimir Putin in the activities of a decade-old German company now at the center of a pan-European probe into St. Petersburg mobsters, Colombian cocaine and transcontinental money laundering?

The question has intrigued investigators and journalists since a German foreign intelligence report was leaked to the press during Putin's rise to power. The report alleged that SPAG, a company set up ostensibly to invest in St. Petersburg real estate, was actually laundering funds for Russian criminal gangs and Colombian drug lords.

The French daily Le Monde was first out of the gate with the story, raising some uncomfortable questions about Putin's tenure on SPAG's supervisory board, which lasted from when he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg in the early 1990s until he entered the Kremlin. Newsweek magazine followed a year later with a report that raised even more questions, but despite contradictory denials and clarifications from Putin's press service, the story quietly went away. Until this May, that is, when German police launched a nationwide raid on the homes and offices of more than 200 people connected with the company.

Now, as prosecutors in Germany and Liechtenstein tighten the noose and move closer to the courts, a new book has hit German bookstores offering the most in-depth look yet at SPAG, its ties with Putin, and into Rudolf Ritter, a co-founder of the company who is now awaiting trial in Liechtenstein for allegedly laundering cocaine cash for the Cali cartel.

Thumbing its nose at attempts by Vladimir Kumarin, the reputed head of the St. Petersburg-based Tambov mafia ring, to quash the book, called "Die Gangster aus dem Osten" or "Gangsters From the East," the publisher, Europa Verlag, is actually touting it to other international publishers at the ongoing Frankfurt book fair, the world's largest.

In his 305-page work, Juergen Roth details how German investigators - with little or no help from their Russian counterparts - uncovered a complex web of relationships and transactions that link SPAG to St. Petersburg's criminal underworld and beyond. The book fails to tie Putin directly to any criminal activity, but does paint a convincing argument that he was more involved with SPAG's activities than previously acknowledged.

Like the Le Monde and Newsweek articles, "Gangsters From the East" links Putin to alleged mobster Kumarin (who has since changed his name to Barsukov) through Vladimir Smirnov, the former head of SPAG's St. Petersburg operations and an old associate of the president.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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