LONDON Vladimir Putin's opponents often brand him a "thief" at street protests. Now the Kremlin is dismissing an American football team owner's account of how the Russian president ended up with his diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring when they met eight years ago.
According to the New York Post, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the audience at a recent awards ceremony that he had intended only to show Putin the ring, worth more than $25,000, but that Putin had pocketed it.
Putin's spokesman said that Kraft clearly meant the ring - around 70 of which are given to the winning team in the annual American football championship - to be a gift, and suggested Kraft should see a psychoanalyst.
"I was standing right behind the president, and I saw how he was given the ring," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sunday in London, where Putin met British Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of a G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Kraft met Putin in St Petersburg in 2005, after the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl that February. In a statement at the time, he reportedly said he had decided to give Putin the ring as a gesture of goodwill.
But according to the Post, Kraft told the audience at an awards ceremony in New York that, after he had shown the ring to Putin and Putin put it on, "I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out".
He said he had wanted the ring back but that the White House, then under President George W. Bush, had told him it would be better for relations with Moscow if he treated it as a gift, the newspaper reported on a society page.
"These words about how someone put pressure on him and so forth - I think this is an issue for a detailed discussion with psychoanalysts," Peskov said.
Peskov said Putin was prepared to buy a ring and give it to Kraft, but he said nothing about returning the Super Bowl ring.
"This gentleman is experiencing such agonising pain from the loss that occurred in connection with an act of trust in 2005," Peskov said.
"The president will be ready to send him as a gift some other ring, which he can buy with his own money."
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey)