Roman Abramovich gave Vladimir Putin a £25million yacht after he became president of Russia, it was claimed last night.
The gift from the Chelsea Football Club owner is just a small part of Mr Putin’s vast wealth, which is estimated to have reached £28billion.
Details emerged as a US Treasury official accused Putin of corruption, nepotism and embezzlement of state funds.
The wealth of the Russian president – whose official salary is about £80,000 – has long been the subject of speculation.
A dossier from a political rival claims Mr Putin stays at more than 20 palaces and country retreats and has 58 planes and helicopters.
The report also claims he uses a private jet with an £110million cabin which has a bathroom with gold fittings and a £50,000 toilet.
Mr Putin, who was last week accused of ordering the killing of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, has often played on his humble beginnings for political gain.
Last night Adam Szubin, who oversees sanctions in the US Treasury, said the American government has known of Mr Putin’s corruption for ‘many, many years’.
He told BBC Panorama: ‘We’ve seen him enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalising those who he doesn’t view as friends using state assets.
‘Whether that’s Russia’s energy wealth, whether it’s other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don’t. To me, that is a picture of corruption.’
The programme cited a secret CIA report from 2007 stating that Putin’s wealth stood at around £30 billion.
‘He supposedly draws a state salary of something like £80,000 a year,’ said Szubin. ‘That is not an accurate statement of the man’s wealth, and he has long-time training and practices in terms of how to mask his actual wealth.’
Other perks are said to include a £500million palace on the Black Sea coast and a 2,300-acre residence on Lake Valdai in north-west Russia.
Dmitry Skarga, who ran Russian state shipping firm Sovcomflot, said he oversaw the transfer of the yacht.
The 187ft vessel called Olympia has room for ten guests and a crew of 16.
He said: ‘It’s a fact that Mr Abramovich, through his employee, transferred a yacht to Mr Putin. I was on board of this yacht at the end of March 2002, in Amsterdam.
‘And there was a representative of Mr Abramovich. He said that Roman is the owner of this yacht.’
He said the Olympia was given to Mr Putin via an offshore company, adding: ‘This yacht was maintained and running costs paid for from the state budget.’
Mr Abramovich’s lawyers said the claims were ‘unsubstantiated’ – but did not specifically deny he had given Mr Putin a yacht.
According to a declaration of assets published on the Kremlin’s website in 2014, the Russian president owns three Russian-made cars, a 77-square-metre flat, a garage and a plot of land.
Putin’s modest declared earnings are by far the lowest among Kremlin officials, and below most ministers, many of whom boast fleets of luxury vehicles and multiple houses in European countries.
Putin, a former KGB agent, has previously scoffed at claims he was Europe’s richest man, saying: ‘It’s simply rubbish. They just picked all of it out of someone’s nose and smeared it across their little papers.’
Today Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accused the BBC of ‘incompetence’.
He said: ‘This is absolutely public data which is very easy to check. People often refer to me as an expert on yachts. This is not true. I know that the president does not have a yacht. I know it.’
He added: ‘Regarding the contents of that BBC material, it is pure fiction and slander which does not have any grounds.’
By now, the Kremlin had ‘got used to such journalistic hoaxes linked either to incompetence or chasing tabloid material’.
But Mr Peskov claimed the allegations could be, ‘part of an orchestrated campaign’.
He took exception to the participation of an Obama government official, Adam Szubin, acting under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, who claimed Putin was a ‘picture of corruption’.
‘Concerning the BBC show, this would just be another example of typical irresponsible journalism if it weren’t for the comment by a US Treasury official,’ said Peskov. ‘Here the situation is different. This is an official accusation.
‘First of all this shows clearly who pulls the strings. Secondly, it requires proof.’
The airing such allegations ‘without concrete proof to back them up casts a shadow over this institution’ but said it was not his job to demand the evidence.
‘Now it is the task of this authority to present some kind of evidence and to prove that the statement of its official representative is not an unfounded slander.’
Ironically Putin was today chairing a meeting of his Council on Resisting Corruption.
Asked if the show’s claim could affect relations with the US, Peskov said that relations were ‘now not in the best shape and therefore such a lie can hardly make them worse’.