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TV anchor and journalist Ksenia Sobchak attends a session of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2021. Photo: Reuters

Ksenia Sobchak, celebrity daughter of Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss, flees Russia as home is raided

  • Russian news agencies reported that TV star Ksenia Sobchak - the daughter of Vladimir Putin’s mentor - was a suspect in an extortion case
  • Raid is a signal to the country’s elite that no one is untouchable, and sent shock waves through the political scene

Russian investigators on Wednesday raided the home of Ksenia Sobchak, the glamorous daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s one-time boss, in a move that has sent shock waves through the country’s political scene.

Sobchak, a 40-year-old television star, has often been critical of Putin, but many Russian opposition figures have accused her of serving the Kremlin’s agenda.

In 2018, she became a liberal challenger in Russia’s presidential election, finishing a distant fourth with about 1.7 per cent of the vote in what her critics described as a Kremlin effort to add a democratic veneer to Putin’s sweeping re-election.

Investigators said that the search at Sobchak’s luxury home in a prestigious Moscow suburb was part of a probe into alleged wrongdoing by her media director, Kirill Sukhanov, who was arrested on charges of extortion.

Sobchak on Tuesday rejected the accusations against Sukhanov as “ravings and nonsense” and described his arrest as part of the authorities’ efforts to stifle independent media.

The state Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies said that Sobchak had fled Russia. Tass claimed she had bought tickets to Dubai and Türkiye to mislead the authorities but eventually left for Belarus, from where she moved to Lithuania.

The reports claimed that investigators suspected Sobchak of being involved in the extortion scheme along with her media director and alleged that a warrant was issued for her arrest.

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Tass also cited information from the probe indicating that Sergei Chemezov, a long-time Putin associate who heads the state Rostec corporation, a conglomerate controlling Russian aviation industries and other hi-tech assets, was the victim of alleged extortion.

The claims could not be independently confirmed. Sobchak has not commented on the allegations and her whereabouts were unknown.

Sobchak has extensive contacts among Russia’s rich and powerful, and the search of her home topped domestic news.

Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, argued that the raid has sent a signal to members of the Russian elite that all bets are off.

“If they can arrest the daughter of Putin’s patron … it means there are no untouchables,” Markov wrote in a commentary. “For some members of the elites, an arrest warrant for Sobchak is a blazing sign in the skies.”

Sobchak is the daughter of Anatoly Sobchak, a liberal mayor of St Petersburg for whom Putin served as a deputy in the 1990s. She reportedly his Putin’s goddaughter.

Sobchak has 9.4 million followers on Instagram, and her glamour, sharp wit and defiant ways have made her both loved and loathed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Ksenia Sobchak at the Kremlin in March 2018 during his meeting with opposition candidates who ran against him in presidential election. Photo: AP

She first gained fame as a fashionable socialite and reality television star and was once dubbed the “Russian Paris Hilton”, but later sought to shed her spoiled and arrogant image.

Sobchak got involved in politics when she joined the massive protests in Moscow against Putin in 2011-12, and later reinvented herself as a serious television journalist and opposition activist.

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Sobchak has denied serving the Kremlin’s agenda by running as a challenger to Putin in 2018.

But opposition leader Alexei Navalny denounced her for discrediting the opposition by joining the race, saying that she was a “parody of a liberal candidate” and her involvement in the campaign helped the Kremlin cast the opposition in a negative light.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse