LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) - A little-known Russian businessman from St Petersburg has provided properties to multiple women who share one common theme: President Vladimir Putin.
One of the women is Putin’s younger daughter; two are close relatives of a woman Russian media have reported to be Putin’s girlfriend – though the president has strongly denied any relationship. And a fourth is a student who posed for a calendar celebrating the president’s birthday. All of the properties are in upmarket gated complexes in and around Moscow.
Public records show Grigory Baevsky, a 47-year-old business associate of an old friend of Putin, sold or transferred the properties to three of the women. In the other case, Putin’s younger child, Katerina Tikhonova, used the address of a flat owned by Baevsky as her own when registering a new company.
The connections add to the picture of individuals in Putin’s wider circle and the way these people blur the lines between public and private business.
Last year, Reuters reported that Putin’s daughter Tikhonova, who holds a senior position at Moscow State University, is personally advised by some of Putin’s oldest friends. She is also married to Kirill Shamalov, son of billionaire Nikolai Shamalov, an associate of Putin’s.
Baevsky has worked as an aide to another close friend of Putin, his judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg.
Public records show that companies co-owned by Baevsky have benefited from state construction contracts worth at least 6 billion rubles ($89 million) in the past two years.
Baevsky has previously attracted little attention. His connection to Putin was uncovered by investigative journalist Roman Anin who was conducting research for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an East European media network.
Baevsky is a former property manager for a state company in St Petersburg. In 2006, he founded a dacha cooperative near the city with Arkady Rotenberg and Rotenberg’s brother Boris, public records show.
Baevsky went into business with the Rotenbergs in 2011, working until 2014 as a director at Arkady Rotenberg’s investment vehicle, the Russian Holding company, according to corporate filings. Public records also show he was declared as an ‘affiliated person’ of SMP Bank, which is majority-owned by the brothers.
Arkady Rotenberg was among the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western visa bans and asset freezes over Moscow’s seizure of Crimea. According to the U.S. Treasury, Rotenberg and his brother Boris have won billions of dollars from projects awarded to them by Putin. The brothers have denied getting help from the Russian leader for their businesses.
Reuters sent questions about the property deals to Baevsky’s last known home address, and to businesses owned by him, but received no response.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: “We know nothing about who this (Baevsky) is. The President is also not acquainted with him.”
Separately, Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the Kremlin was facing a series of queries from international media about Putin’s relationship with his childhood friends and their receipt of state contracts. He said he would not comment because the Kremlin believes the articles are part of a politically-motivated campaign to discredit Putin.
A spokesman for Rotenberg said the businessman had no information about Baevsky’s property deals. Asked if Baevsky was acting on behalf of Rotenberg in his property dealings, or if they were related to Rotenberg’s friendship with Putin, Rotenberg’s spokesman said: “Of course not. Such declarations are absurd.” The spokesman said Baevsky “does not work” for any Arkady Rotenberg company or holding.
The role of Baevsky emerged when the OCCRP – which is funded by the Open Society Institute, USAID, and the Swiss government, among others – discovered that a woman called Katerina Tikhonova declared her home to be an apartment owned by the businessman. Tikhonova, as Reuters reported last year, is Putin’s 29-year-old daughter. In November 2012, she used the apartment’s address when she filed papers to register herself as co-founder and owner of a private company called Interdisciplinary Initiatives Foundation in Natural Sciences and Humanities.
Reuters has reviewed the Tikhonova company registration papers, and public documents confirm the flat is owned by Baevsky. It is not known whether Tikhonova lived at the flat or paid any rent there. The flat is around 6.5 km (4 miles) from Putin’s official residence.
Tikhonova did not respond to questions about her use of the address.
In addition to the Tikhonova deal, public records show that in 2013 Baevsky transferred ownership of a home and plot of land in a pine forest at Uspenskoe in the Moscow region to Anna Zatsepilina. The neighborhood is one of the most expensive in Russia.
Zatsepilina is the 81-year-old grandmother of Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and public supporter of Putin. In 2008 the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent named Kabaeva as Putin’s girlfriend. Putin has rejected the assertion and Reuters could not independently confirm it. The newspaper closed soon after the article appeared.
Zatsepilina could not be reached for comment. The Uspenskoe home sits within a gated community and is protected by security guards, who denied access to Reuters and declined to help contact any of its residents.
In an earlier deal, in 2009, public records show that Baevsky transferred ownership of an apartment in Veresaeva Street in the Moscow suburbs to Leysan Kabaeva. She is the sister of Alina, the former gymnast.
Asked about how she came to acquire the property from Baevsky, a spokeswoman for a company owned and run by Leysan Kabaeva declined to comment.
Asked about Alina Kabaeva’s relationship with Putin and about Baevsky’s dealings with her relatives, a spokeswoman for the former gymnast said: “They are all adults, answer to themselves, and live their own lives. Alina Maratovna Kabaeva is not connected to a single one of these questions.”
Last year Baevsky transferred another apartment in a smart gated complex in Moscow to Alisa Kharcheva, a 23-year-old former international relations student. The sale price was not disclosed.
In 2010, a group of students and would-be students from Moscow State University created a calendar to celebrate Putin’s birthday. The calendar featured pictures of themselves; Kharcheva starred on the month of April. Two years later, Kharcheva posed with a cat and a photograph of the president in a personal blog post entitled “Pussy for Putin,” which extolled the president’s leadership. The blog post also featured her entry from the 2010 calendar.
Asked how she came to buy a flat from Baevsky, Kharcheva said the transaction was a normal one conducted through a real estate agency. She said she did not know the businessman. “We bought this flat with a mortgage. And we pay that mortgage to this day.” Asked if any connection to Putin had helped her obtain the flat from Baevsky, she replied: “No one has ever asked me such stupid questions.”
(This version of the story corrects spelling of Maratovna in second section)
Additional reporting by Anthony Carter and Winnie Agbonlahor; Edited by Richard Woods and Simon Robinson