MOSCOW -- Russian investigators on Wednesday raided the home of Ksenia Sobchak, the glamourous daughter of Russian 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% 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 Turkey 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.
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 high-tech assets, was the victim of alleged extortion.
The claims couldn’t be independently confirmed. Sobchak hasn't 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.
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 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 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 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.