Investigators raid home of Russian TV star Ksenia Sobchak

Daughter of Putin’s one-time boss has fled Russia after becoming a suspect in an extortion case, state media report.

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

Sobchak, a 40-year-old TV 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 percent 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 the search of Sobchak’s luxury home in a prestigious Moscow suburb was part of an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by her media director, Kirill Sukhanov, who was arrested on Tuesday on charges of extortion.

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

On her Telegram channel, she suggested that the case that triggered the search was politically motivated and linked to a documentary she had made on the use of torture in Russian prisons.

Sobchak’s Telegram channel, which frequently carries reports critical of government policy, has 1.4 million followers.

The state Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies said Sobchak has fled Russia. Tass said she left for Belarus, then moved on to Lithuania. The AFP news agency cited Lithuanian border officials as saying Sobchak had arrived in the country.

The Russian state media reports said investigators suspect Sobchak of being involved in the extortion scheme along with her media director and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. The reports couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Ksenia Sobchak during his meeting with opposition candidates at the Kremlin in Moscow in March 2018 [File: Yuri Kadobnov/AP Photo]

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

Sergey 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 in the 1990s. Putin served as his deputy.

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

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

Sobchak became involved in politics when she joined the protests in Moscow against Putin in 2011 and 2012 and later reinvented herself as a serious TV journalist and opposition activist.

Sobchak has denied serving the Kremlin’s agenda by running as a challenger to Putin in 2018. But opposition leader Alexey Navalny denounced her for discrediting the opposition by joining the race. He called her a “parody of a liberal candidate” and said her involvement in the campaign helped the Kremlin cast the opposition in a negative light.

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