On Wednesday June 16, at 1pm Central European Time, American President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will meet face to face for four hours with Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Yes those are their real middle names. The tête-à-tête will take place at an 18th-century chateau on the shore of Lake Geneva called Villa La Grange. The Presidents will be joined by their respective Secretaries of State and two translators.
It will be an interesting, and likely tense, summit for the two Presidents. They are fairly similar in some important ways. They are both lifelong civil servants. And they have both built careers off the image of being connected to the working man.
"Middle class Joe" was consistently ranked as one of the poorest members of Congress for most of his political career. His tax returns showed a net worth that barely topped $1 million when he left the White House in 2016. According to his most-recent official financial disclosures, today Joe Biden is worth around $9 million thanks to a bonanza of speaking fees and book deals earned in years before he was elected President.
And then there's Vladimir Putin.
If you believe the financial disclosures released by the Kremlin in August 2019, Vladimir Putin might as well be nicknamed "Middle class Vlad." Putin's purported net worth is almost laughably modest.
Vladimir's 2019 disclosure reported total annual income of $135,000. It then listed the following as his most-valuable earthly assets:
- An 830 square-foot apartment in Saint Petersberg (with access to a 200 square-foot garage!)
- A 1,600 square-foot apartment in Moscow
- Two vintage Russian GAZ M21 sedans, worth a combined $20-30,000
- A Lada Niva SUV, worth around $6,000
- A $900 tow-able camper tent trailer
I have no idea how to value those two apartments (plus the garage), but given the assets and income reported, one might presume Vladimir Putin's total net worth is a couple hundred thousand dollars. And, actually, that would line up with the $500,000 net worth he reported in 2012, two years before Vladimir and his wife of 30 years, Lyudmila, divorced.
Perhaps we shouldn't be so skeptical of Vladimir's modest means. After all, he has spent his entire lifetime in government service.
On the other hand, a lot of very smart people think Vladimir Putin is secretly…
The richest person in the world.
Side note: A watch expert can weigh-in, but based on some quick Googling, the watch Putin is wearing in the photo above appears to be a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar which would set you back around $60,000 retail. Putin is also alleged to own $500,000 A. Lange & Sohne Toubograph.
An (Allegedly) Massive Secret Fortune
Rumblings about Putin's massive secret fortune have been leaking out of Russia for over a decade.
How does one amass a massive secret fortune?
Critics have claimed that as the Soviet Union fell and gave way to today's pseudo-capitalistic oligarchy, Putin was perfectly placed benefit personally at each step.
Reportedly one of Putin's most crucial power grabs took place in July 2003 when he very publicly arrested Russia's then-richest citizen, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky was literally pulled off his own private jet, placed in handcuffs and put on trial in Moscow. At the time he was worth $15 billion. In May 2005, he was found guilty and sentenced to 9 years in prison. He was then further charged with money laundering and embezzlement.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent 10 years in a Siberian prison before being released in December 2013.
According to longtime Putin critic Bill Browder, a hedge fund manager who was ousted from Russia in 2005, upon seeing what happened to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, all of Russia's billionaire industrialists promptly made the trek to Moscow to ask what they had to do to avoid the same fate.
According to testimony Browder gave to the US Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 here's how the scheme went down:
"After Khodorkovsky's conviction the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin's answer was, "Fifty per cent." He wasn't saying 50% for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50% for Vladimir Putin personally."
Later in his testimony, Browder lays it all out:
"Putin is one of the richest men in the world. I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power."
Let me repeat that number.
According to Bill Browder, Vladimir Putin is personally worth:
That would make him the richest person in the world today, topping Jeff Bezos by $4 billion.
Stanislav Belkovsky, a former Russian government advisor has estimated that Putin is worth at least $70 billion. In 2007 Belkovsky estimated that Putin had $40 billion stashed in Switzerland and Liechtenstein in addition to owning 37% and 4.5%, respectively, of the two biggest Russian oil companies, Surgutneftegaz and Gazprom.
Putin has denied claims about his wealth. Speaking on his behalf, the Kremlin has previously called billion dollar estimates of Putin's wealth as "pure fiction that doesn't even warrant a response."
A $1.4 Billion Palace
Back in January, Russian activists flew a drone over the property pictured above that has long-been rumored to be Putin's secret palace. The unimaginably luxurious mansion spans 190,000 square-feet situated on a 170-acre clifftop above the Black Sea.
Reputed to be the largest private residence in Russia, the property features a 27,000 square-foot guest house, amphitheater, professional-caliber ice hockey rink, a Vegas-style casino, nightclub with stripper poles and an underground tasting room overlooking the water. Classical music plays around the clock at the property's vineyards. Bathrooms feature $850 Italian toilet brushes and $1,250 toilet paper holders.
According to documents released by the activists the palace cost $1.4 billion to construct.
Here's the drone video released by the activists:
After the above video wracked up 100+ million views in a few days, the Kremlin once again denied claims about Putin's wealth:
"This is not true. There is no palace, he is not an owner of any palace. Those are all rumors and there were some disputes between the owners of those premises, but they really have no connection with President Putin."
So how rich is Vladimir Putin? Honestly, it's so hard to say definitively. There is clearly a lot of smoke coming from the $200 billion fortune camp.
It would almost be easier to take Putin's denials seriously if he admitted to having a smaller fortune, like $100 million. He would be more credible if he just came out and said "Yes I have an ill-gotten $100 million fortune, but all this talk of $200 billion is nonsense." It would be more believable.
We'll let the Vladimir have the last word on rumors about this wealth with the following anecdote.
Putin once told a journalist:
"I am the wealthiest man, not just in Europe but in the whole world: I collect emotions. I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth."