They say money equals power, and Vladimir Putin has plenty of power of right now.
But how much money does he have?
He’s not telling.
Figuring out the Russian president’s net worth has long been the holy grail of spooks and hacks around the world. But the personal wealth of Putin—a former KGB agent—is nearly impossible to decipher, and is likely distributed across a secret web of company holdings, real estate, and other people’s accounts. In fact, at a time when his political motivations are under scrutiny across the world, the struggle to pin down Putin’s riches reveals something about the covert ways in which he wields his authority over Russia.
Here’s what we know.
The most often cited estimate comes from a former mid-level Kremlin adviser named Stanislav Belkovsky. In 2007, he claimed Putin had a fortune worth at least $40 billion—a figure that would put him in the top 10 of Forbes magazine’s ranking of billionaires.
(Forbes, the premier chronicler of the world’s wealthiest, doesn’t include Putin on its list of billionaires. In 2015, the magazine said it couldn’t verify enough assets.)
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a glass of champagne during the reception for new foreign ambassadors at Grand Kremlin Palace on November 9, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. Putin has received credentials from 19 new foreign ambassadors and also extended congratulates to Donald Trump the winner of U.S. Presidential election today. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
The Kremlin source based his estimate on Putin’s alleged stakes in several companies, mostly in the oil sector. He said the Russian president controlled 37% of the oil company Surgutneftegaz, 4.5% of natural gas company Gazprom, and had substantial holdings in a commodities trader called Gunvor.
“At least $40 billion,” Belkovsy told the Guardian at the time.“Maximum we cannot know. I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin examines gold ingots before a meeting with region government on November 22, 2005 in Magadan, Russia. Kommersant Photo/Getty Images
The American government has linked Putin to Gunvor, too. “Putin has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds,” the U.S. Treasury said in a statement in 2014 as it announced sanctions.
Gunvor—which reportedly made $93 billion in revenue in 2012—denies Putin has ever had any ownership in the company.
In this Oct. 9, 2008 file photo a two and a half month female tiger cub, no name yet given, looks at, at the Novo Ogaryovo residence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, outside Moscow. Alexei Nikolsky/AP
Later, in 2012, Belkovsky upped his estimate to $70 billion, based on new information from “confidential sources around the corporations,” according to an interview with nonprofit journalism outlet The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
That’d put Putin within striking distance of Bill Gates, who according to Bloomberg is the world’s richest man with an estimated net worth of $84 billion. One less credible critic says Putin’s real worth could be as high as $200 billion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin watches the Peace Mission 2007 counter-terrorism exercise of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Chebarkul, 17 August 2007. The activities are part of the Peace Mission 2007 counter-terrorism exercise of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The presidents of Russia, China and four other Central Asian states attended unprecedented joint military exercises intended as a display of strength before the Western world. DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
Putin certainly has the visible trappings of wealth. Among his alleged holdings is a palace on the Black Sea with a reported price tag of $1 billion.
It features “a magnificent columned facade reminiscent of the country palaces Russian tsars built in the 18th Century,” according to the BBC. It also allegedly includes a private theatre, a landing pad with bays for three helicopters, and accommodation for security guards.
Putin’s palace on the Black Sea. RULeaks/Wikimedia Commons
The palace was personally built for Putin but paid for using a secret slush fund created by a group of Russian oligarchs, according to a self-exiled Russian businessman named Sergei Kolesnikov, who provided evidence of the alleged scheme to the BBC.
The alleged scheme suggests a system in which the Kremlin’s power grants Putin access not only to his country’s corporate wealth but also to the personal accounts of Russian’s richest oligarchs.
Facade of the Grand Kremlin Palace (1838-1849), design by Konstantin Ton (1794-1881), Kremlin Palace (Unesco World Heritage List, 1990), Moscow, Central District, Russia. De Agostini/Getty Images
And if the rumors are true, the Black Sea manse isn’t Putin’s only palace. He enjoys 20 palaces, four yachts, 58 aircraft, and a collection of watches worth £400,000, according to a scandalous dossier drawn up by a former deputy prime minister in 2012.
“In a country where 20 million people can barely make ends meet, the luxurious life of the president is a brazen and cynical challenge to society from a high-handed potentate,” Boris Nemstov wrote in the document, according to the Telegraph.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin adjusts his sunglasses as he watches an air show during MAKS-2011, the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on August 17, 2011. DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Here’s the yacht “Graceful,” apparently belonging to Putin, docked in Sochi in 2015.
The Telegraph story also describes “a little-known three-storey residence near Saratov, on the Volga river south-east of Moscow, has German chandeliers and Italian furniture, and features a billiard room, a winter garden, a pool and sauna.”
The yacht ‘Graceful’ of Russian President Vladimir Putin is mooored at the port of Sochi, Russia, 13 July 2015. Marcus Brandt/AP
Perhaps we’ll never know. Unlike Donald Trump, Putin has publicly downplayed his net worth. “It’s just chitchat, nonsense, nothing to discuss,” he has said, according to Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky. “They picked it out of their noses and smeared it on their pieces of paper.”
But he does not deny a certain level of priceless holdings, according to New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers’ book The New Tsar. “I am the wealthiest man not just in Europe but in the whole world: I collect emotions,” Putin has said. “I am wealthy in that the people of Russia have twice entrusted me with the leadership of a great nation such as Russia. I believe that is my greatest wealth.”
Russias President Vladimir Putin works out at a gym at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on August 30, 2015. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEVAFP/Getty Images
Simon Shuster contributed reporting.