THE shady reputation of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been further blackened by corruption allegations from a US Treasury official.
The accusations by acting Treasury Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes Adam Szubin followed last week's finding by a British judicial inquiry that Mr Putin had likely ordered the 2006 killing of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.
In an interview with the BBC's Panorama program, Mr Szubin said the US considered President Putin to be corrupt and had known this for "many, many years".
"We've seen him enriching his friends, his close allies and marginalising those who he doesn't view as friends using state assets," Mr Szubin told the program.
"Whether that's Russia's energy wealth, whether it's other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don't.
"To me, that is a picture of corruption."
A spokesman for the Russian government dismissed the allegations as "pure fiction".
However, there have long been reports that President Putin has amassed vast secret wealth.
In 2007 a CIA report estimated his fortune at $57 billion and in April last year hedge fund manager Bill Browder, once the largest foreign investor in Russia, told CNN that Mr Putin had amassed more than $280 billion.
If true, that would easily make him the richest person in the world.
"After 14 years in power of Russia, and the amount of money that the country has made, and the amount of money that hasn't been spent on schools and roads and hospitals and so on - all that money is in property, Swiss bank accounts, shares (and) hedge funds managed for Putin and his cronies," Mr Browder said.
In April last year, Mr Putin declared an annual income of about $170,000 and ownership of two apartments and a share in a carparking garage.
After last week's finding on the death of Mr Litvinenko, former US Republican presidential candidate John McCain did not mince his words.
"It is delusional, our relationship with Russia ... this guy is a thug and a murderer in the old KGB style," he said.