'Putin Involved in Drug Smuggling Ring', Says Ex-KGB Officer

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been implicated in helping run a drug smuggling and money laundering ring in St Petersburg in the 1990s. Tony Gentile/REUTERS

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his long-time ally Victor Ivanov, who is currently head of Russia's narcotics agency, have been implicated in helping run a drug smuggling and money laundering ring in St Petersburg in the 1990s. The allegations were made by ex-KGB officer Yuri Shvets who spoke at the inquiry into the death Alexander Litvinenko yesterday.

Shvets testified in front of Ben Emmerson QC, expanding on a report he had compiled with fellow ex-Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, a few months prior to the latter's death from polonium poisoning.

According to Shvets' sources, which include the late Litvinenko, an anonymous party "sufficiently close to Ivanov to have been his former assistant", as well as the Ukrainian security services, "Mr Putin was directly involved in a company that was laundering drugs from Colombia" [sic].

The 'due diligence' report, which Shvets and Litvinenko compiled for Titon International, a security firm based in Mayfair, explains the alleged historical link between Putin, Ivanov and the infamous St Petersburg criminal gang Tambovskaya in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Tambovskaya criminal group, also known as Tambov, is one of the most infamous Russian organised crime groups and have been referred to as "The Russian's Goodfellas".

Shvets alleges that as Putin and Ivanov rose from their positions in the security services (KGB/FSB) to more prominent ones in the St Petersburg administration during the 90s, Ivanov "was cooperating with gangsters" such as the now convicted money-launderer Vladimir Kumarin-Barsukov - the leader of the Tambovskaya gang. According to Shvets, Putin "protected" Ivanov while he was engaged in criminal activity, using his position in the St Petersburg mayor's office to do so.

In the late 1990s Ivanov was reinstated to the security services and became head of internal security, while Putin headed the FSB. Shvets says that by then the agency had "assumed the methods used in the past by the organized crime - racketeering, extortion, protecting 'friendly' businesses and cracking down on 'unfriendly' ones".

Meanwhile the inquiry also heard from Shvets that Ivanov's branch of the FSB in the 1990s "was most closely involved with systemic organised corruption".

According to Shvets, his and Litvinenko's report further described possible ties Putin had with Kumarin-Barsukov while Putin was working in St Petersburg government in the 1990s, including that Putin was named as a member of the advisory board of a real-estate company called SPAG in 1992, whose subsidiary company Kumarin-Barsukov was a board member of.

Kumarin-Barsukov denied ties to the Russian president, before being sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2009 for money laundering, having also been charged with organising murder and attempted murder.

The inquiry is currently investigating the possibility that Litvinenko's murder was orchestrated by the FSB, something that Shvets says could not have been done without the knowledge and consent of "the top authority in Russia, which is Vladimir Putin".

The inquiry continues.