Vladimir Putin’s rumoured goddaughter has reportedly been caught on CCTV fleeing Russia on foot just hours before police raided her luxury home.
Ksenia Sobchak, who is the daughter of Putin’s one-time boss, is now in Lithuania after entering the country on her Israeli passport, the head of Lithuania's counter-intelligence service said on Thursday.
The 40-year-old journalist and TV star who was once dubbed the "Russian Paris Hilton" left on Tuesday night, crossing the Belarus-Lithuania border after tricking the Russian authorities by purchasing — but not using — plane tickets from Moscow to Turkey and Dubai, the state-owned news agency TASS reported.
CCTV footage circulating online appears to capture Ms Sobchak wearing all black as she enters the border checkpoint on foot while seemingly trying to keep her head down, according to RIA Novosti news agency.
An unidentified man in blue walking behind her can be seen looking over his shoulder as he carries a large duffle bag.
It’s believed the leaked footage was captured by Belarusian border security cameras.
"Without any doubt, she is [in Lithuania]… I confirm the fact", Darius Jauniskis, who heads the Baltic country's counter-intelligence service, told the Ziniu radio station on Thursday morning.
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 27, 2022
"As an Israeli citizen, with a valid passport, she doesn't need a visa and can enter Lithuania and stay here for up to 90 days," he added.
Israel's daily Haaretz newspaper reported in April that Ms Sobchak acquired Israeli citizenship after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Sobchak responds on Telegram
Russian media reports that Ms Sobchak’s 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.
Ms Sobchak is not a suspect, TASS reported, citing law enforcement agencies.
The state-owned news agency earlier this month said Ms Sobchak herself faced a criminal investigation over a story she had done that police suspect was "fake", though suggested the subject of the offending material was the "state funding of festivals".
After news of the police raid broke, Ms Sobchak suggested on her Telegram channel 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.
"Our commercial director Kirill Sukhanov has been arrested. They are trying to charge him with extortion," Sobchak wrote on Wednesday, CCN reports.
"I don’t believe [these charges] at all, and I hope that now they will quickly sort everything out and will see that all this is some kind of nonsense.
"If not, then it is obviously a raid on my editorial office – the last free editorial office in Russia, which had to be clamped down."
Sobchak's connection to Putin raises suspicion
The 40-year-old is the daughter of the late Anatoly Sobchak, St Petersburg's mayor in the 1990s, who was Putin's boss and friend. The two families had close ties, sometimes holidaying together.
Her long-standing family connection to Putin has been a source of suspicion among parts of the anti-Kremlin opposition movement, much of which is now outside Russia, despite her own involvement with it at times.
While she first gained fame as a fashionable socialite, Ms 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.
Her Telegram channel, which frequently carries reports critical of government policy, has 1.4 million followers.
She ran for the Russian presidency in 2018, winning less than 2 per cent of the vote, in what her critics derided as a publicity stunt that helped the Kremlin create the impression inside Russia that the election, won by Putin, was competitive.
Ms Sobchak said she had genuinely wanted to win the contest and was interested in politics and bringing about change.
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