Putin ‘snuck into Spain via Gibraltar’

Russian President Vladmir Putin illegally entered Spain by boat on numerous occasions in the 1990s, avoiding passport controls by coming in via Gibraltar to meet Russian oligarchs, a new book claims.

Putin 'snuck into Spain via Gibraltar'
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev fishing in the Tyva region in July 2013. Photo: Alexander Astafiev/Ria-Novosti/AFP

According to a new book, ‘Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?’ by Russia expert Karen Dawisha, Vladimir Putin took illegal boat rides to Spain from Gibraltar to meet Russian oligarchs.

The story starts in St Petersburg, where Putin was deputy mayor from 1991 to 1996, a review in the New York Review of Books reveals.

A construction company reportedly linked to Putin received money from the city budget and used it to build villas in Spain for Putin’s friends, reportedly using Russian army labour through Spanish contractors.

Reports of this kind led Spanish police to monitor Russian oligarchs active in Spain in the 1990s and, as the New York Review of Books points out: "In 1999, to their immense surprise, their recorders picked up an unexpected visitor: Putin. He had arrived in Spain illegally, by boat from Gibraltar, having eluded Spanish passport control."

Among monitored Russian oligarchs active in Spain was Boris Berezovsky, who at that time was extremely close to Putin, but would fall out of favour once Putin became President bringing with him a new favoured elite from St Petersburg, loyal only to him.

Berezovsky fled Russia in 2000 and in 2013 was found dead in his London home of a reported suicide.

Putin was head of the FSB, the Russian security service, at the time of his illegal visits to Spain and would go on to become Russian president in 2000. Spanish papers said he entered the country on forged documents on multiple occasions.

According to a Wikileaks cable published in The Guardian, Spanish National Court Prosecutor, Jose 'Pepe' Grinda González "traced the history of Russian mafia in Spain to the mid-1990s when several vor v zakone (‘Thief in Law’ – the highest echelon of Russian organized crime leadership) began to enter Spain".

The cable also quoted the prosecutor as saying that "since 2004 Spanish prosecutors have created a formal strategy to 'behead' the Russian mafia in Spain".

Speaking during a 2010 briefing to US officials in Madrid, Grinda González said it wasn't known to what extent Vladimir Putin was personally "implicated in the Russian mafia and controls the mafia´s actions".

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Spanish court probes Russian tycoon’s purchase of supermarket chain Dia

Spain's top criminal court said Thursday it has opened an investigation into whether Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman artificially depressed the share price of supermarket chain Dia before buying the firm.

Spanish court probes Russian tycoon's purchase of supermarket chain Dia
File photo of a Dia supermarket. Photo: AFP

The Kremlin-friendly oligarch appeared in court in Madrid on Monday as part of a separate similar case in which judges are investigating allegations he acted to bring down the value of another Spanish takeover target, digital entertainment firm Zed Worldwide.   

He denied all charges in that case in a statement released after he was questioned in court.

An investigating judge with the National Court “has begun investigating a complaint” against Fridman and his Luxembourg-based investment company LetterOne “in connection with its acquisition of Dia”, according to a document from the court published Thursday.   

In May, LetterOne secured majority control of the struggling supermarket chain via a hostile takeover following a bitter dispute with its previous management as the firm's share price slumped.

The judge is investigating allegations made in an anonymous complaint that LetterOne “maintained a heightened financial tension to lower the share price, until it managed to buy the company,” the court document said.

Spain's Supreme Court had in September given the National Court a mandate to investigate this case which it said could constitute the crime of “market manipulation” and could have had “serious repercussions on… the national economy” given the size of Dia's supermarket network in the country, the document added.

It cited a police report alleging that Fridman acted in a “coordinated and concerted way” through a network of “criminal associates… to create a situation of conflict… and lack of liquidity in the short term” so as to lower Dia's price and buy the firm.   

In a statement, LetterOne called these allegations “totally false and defamatory”.

“The reality is Dia suffered from mismanagement and accounting irregularities were discovered, which negatively affected all shareholders, including LetterOne,” it added.

LetterOne said it was “committed” to investing 1.6 billion euros to protect jobs, suppliers and keep stores open.

Through LetterOne, Fridman also controls interests in telecoms, banking, oil and healthcare.   

The tycoon, who is reportedly close to the Kremlin and was listed by Forbes this year as London's richest resident, is also one of the founders of Alfa Bank, Russia's largest privately-held lender.

READ MORE: From Russia with love: Tycoon buys out ailing Spanish supermarket