Vladimir Putin was long thought to have bought an apartment in Tel Aviv for a former teacher of his, in a rare sordid story about the Russian dictator, but newly discovered documents have revealed that oligarch Roman Abramovich paid for the property.
Mina Yuditskaya-Berliner was Putin’s high school German teacher in present-day St. Petersburg in the 1960s.
She moved to Israel in 1973 and lost sight of Putin for years until he noticed him in public appearances during his rise to power.
Then, in her 80s, she saw that Putin was set to visit Israel and asked the Russian consulate if she could attend on the sidelines of the event to catch a glimpse of her former student.
To the surprise of the elderly widow, during the 2005 visit, she was hosted at a hotel in Jerusalem and given a private audience by Putin. The two joked together over tea, and Putin took down their address. His apartment was later littered with gifts, including a watch and a copy of Putin’s book with a personal message.
Shortly after, a Russian government employee showed up on her doorstep and took her to see some apartments in downtown Tel Aviv, she told Ynet.
“I told him that I just wanted an apartment that would be near the bus station, the market and goal,” she said, using the Hebrew term for a health maintenance organization. “It happened quickly from there. A few months later the movers came to my place [rented] apartment in Florence [in southern Tel Aviv]I packed everything up and moved,” she said.
Putin is believed to have bought the apartment for her, but according to a report on Sunday, Russian-Israeli oligarch Abramovich paid for the property.
Records showed Yuditskaya-Berliner received $245,000 from NP Gemini Holdings Ltd., a shell company based in Cyprus, the same day she bought the apartment in June 2005, the Washington Post reported.
Abramovich’s name does not appear in the documents, but other leaked files from a UK court case list Abramovich as the owner of the company.
A representative of Abramovich said that Rabbi Alexander Boroda, head of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, arranged the gifted apartment. Yuditskaya-Berliner was living in rough conditions and the Federation found her a suitable apartment and donors, he told the Washington Post. Abramovich is the chairman of the federation’s board of directors.
The apartment deal appears to indicate financial ties between Putin and Abramovich, which the oligarch has previously denied.
Yuditskaya-Berliner died in 2017 at the age of 96. She left the property to the Russian Federation, which is still listed as the owner of the apartment.
Abramovich is the former owner of English soccer club Chelsea and was once Israel’s richest man. The cost of the apartment would be a trifle for the billionaire.
Abramovich has been under sanctions since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and has appeared in Israel several times since the war began. He took Israeli citizenship in 2018, although it is unclear how much time he spends in the country.
Analysts have said the Russian invasion was a personal disaster for Abramovich, knocking billions off the value of his assets.
Abramovich made a fortune in Russia’s oil and aluminum industries after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2005, state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom paid $13 billion for oil company Sibneft controlled by Abramovich, Putin’s Kremlin’s ability to recapture state influence in the lucrative energy industry.