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Russia's Putin advised German firm linked to Russian mob: press report
May 18, 2003

Russian President Vladimir Putin served on the consultation board of a German company suspected of laundering money for the Russian mafia, Der Spiegel magazine said in its Monday edition.

Hundreds of police raided 28 locations across Germany last week in connection with a company based in the central state of Hesse which is suspected of laundering cash for a criminal gang based in Saint Petersburg.

Buildings in Hesse, the northern city of Hamburg and the southern city of Munich were searched on Tuesday as part of a criminal investigation that opened in August 2001.

The German police did not disclose the company's name but according to Der Spiegel it is a Russian-German joint venture called St. Petersburg Immobilien und Beteiligungs AG (SPAG), based in Moerfelden in the state of Hesse.

The allegations echo a similar press report that was published in Russia's Kommersant daily newspaper on Friday.

Putin, former deputy mayor in Saint Petersburg, served on the company's consultative board until March 2000, Der Spiegel alleged.

The president's former economic affairs aide, Vladimir Smirnov, was a director of one of SPAG's subsidaries, the magazine added.

SPAG's directors are suspected of having laundered several million euros (dollars) for a mafia group based in Saint Petersburg, German police said.

The cash came from illegal activities such as smuggling of stolen cars and cigarettes, human trafficking and extortion, according to investigators.

SPAG's directors set up a complex system involving many different people and companies, in particular off-shore companies based in tax haven states.

Large sums of money from Russia transited through many international accounts before being transferred to Hesse where they contributed to the company's increase in capital, investigators said.

The money was then brought back to Russia through real estate investments. Police have not succeeded yet in capturing any of the suspects.

The men are also being sought by German financial investment investigators on suspicion of rigging the stock market and insider trading.

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