Swiss media on the lookout for Putin's alleged mistress – and Russian oligarchs

View onto Lake St. Moritz in canton Graubünden. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

Switzerland’s weekend press focused on the whereabouts of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress who has been rumoured to be hiding in the Alpine nation. Newly sanctioned Russian oligarchs said to have residency in Switzerland were another focal point.

This content was published on March 20, 2022 minutes

Swiss authorities have finally weighed in on the question of whether Putin's supposed lover is in the country, saying there is “no indication” that is the case. 

The Federal Department of Justice and Police said it “has no indication of the presence of this person in Switzerland” in response to a query submitted by Tagesschau, a programme of Swiss public broadcaster SRF.

Putin’s alleged girlfriend – Alina Kabaeva, former Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics – drew the attention of Swiss and international press in 2015, when she reportedly gave birth to a girl in the Italian-speaking city of Lugano, canton Ticino. Putin was widely believed to be the father of the child although his spokesman denied it at the time.

Criminal law expert Mark Pieth credited the Swiss government for taking an interest in the matter now.

"I think the Swiss authorities are right to investigate the issue,” he told Tagesschau. “It's not just their private business. I think it's Switzerland's business whether Putin's mistress is staying with us."

Pieth noted it would be reputationally damaging for Switzerland if she was in the Alpine nation.

 "Switzerland is a kind of entry point, like other places, for Russia into the Western world,” he noted. ”There's the commodities trade, there's the [CHF] 200 billion that Russians are said to have invested in the Swiss financial center. Whether justified or unjustified, it would of course reinforce this impression that we are a place of refuge for all kinds of people."

Sanctioned Russians residing in Switzerland

Four of the newly sanctioned Russians live in Switzerland, the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported on Saturday. The list of sanctioned Russians grew this week on account of the conflict in Ukraine. Three of those who are in Switzerland risk deportation, the fourth is shielded by his Swiss passport, according to the newspaper.

On Monday, Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter had said that none of the individuals sanctioned on account of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are in Switzerland. But that statement became outdated as 206 names were added to the list on Wednesday, including oligarchs and prominent business figures from Russia and its ally Belarus.

The German-language newspaper cited security sources when affirming that among those sanctioned three men and one woman hold Swiss residence permits. The sanctions include an entry ban for Switzerland.

The luxurious resort of St. Moritz, in canton Graubünden, is home to commodities magnate Andrei Melnitschenko, noted Tages-Anzeiger. The Pumpianski couple, who have business ties with Melnichenko and are also very rich, reside in Geneva. Their adult son Alexander, also newly sanctioned, has Swiss citizenship.

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) "cannot comment on individual cases due to data and privacy protection," according to remarks quoted by the newspaper.

In the case of 34-year-old Alexander Pumpianski, however, an entry ban could not be enforced due to his red passport, the newspaper noted. In the case of his parents, as well as Melnichenko, who recently made international headlines because of his 143-meter yacht seized in Trieste, expulsion or revocation of the residence permit would be possible.

Melnichenko, the eleventh richest person in Switzerland, says the sanctions against him are  "without justification," according to the business magazine "Bilanz".

 "Andrei Melnichenko is an international self-made businessman, entrepreneur and investor in children's education," his spokesman is quoted as saying. "He has no connection to the tragic events in Ukraine. "

It is not known where the four sanctioned Swiss residents are currently staying, according to the press report. Melnichenko's chalet in the Alpine Engadin valley appeared to be empty in recent days.

In a special address to Switzerland on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the country to crackdown on Russian oligarchs, arguing they help finance Russia’s war on Ukraine.

"I want you to become Ukrainians who feel what it is like when whole cities are destroyed, peaceful cities," he said. "Destroyed on the orders of those who like to live in... beautiful Swiss communities, who enjoy real estate in your country... It would be fair to deprive them of this privilege."

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