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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

Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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