French police were on Monday holding two men for breaking into a villa owned by the former son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin in protest at the invasion of Ukraine, prosecutors said.
One of the men who broke into the luxury seaside residence in the southwestern resort of Biarritz was a French activist called Pierre Haffner.
The other described himself as an opponent of the Putin government.
They are under investigation for intruding into a private home, the Alta Mira villa belonging to Kirill Shamalov, during ‘the past 48 hours’, a source close to the case told AFP.
An activist broke into a villa in Biarritz (France) that allegedly belongs to the ex-husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova
Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s former son-in-law, left, and Ekaterina Tikhonova, Putin’s daughter, right, at their wedding – the couple are no longer together
Businessman Shamalov is described by international media as Putin’s former son-in-law. He was married to the Russian leader’s younger daughter, Katerina Tikhonova.
A video Haffner posted on YouTube showed one of the two anti-Putin activists strolling through the vast late 19th-century home, built on a cliffside with sweeping views of the Atlantic.
‘This house was bought with money stolen by Putin, by his mafia, from the Russian people and the peoples oppressed by Putin’s Russia,’ the man said.
Another video on the streaming platform showed the second man waving a Ukrainian flag from one of the villa’s balconies.
The pair that broke in describe themselves as activists and opponents of Putin
Photos show the interior of the villa, uninhabited at the time of the break in
Activists waved the Ukrainian flag over the balcony in the villa in protest of the war in Ukraine
Photos show a view from the balcony overlooking the view from the Alta Mira villa in France
A subtitle read, ‘The house of the people is ready to host refugees from the Putin regime.’
Kirill is understood to have ventured into foreign property market after purchasing the elegant 300sq metre home in the seaside resort of Biarritz – known to be an attractive tourist destination for wealthy Russians.
Members of Russia’s 19th century imperial aristocracy would visit Biarritz’s Hôtel du Palais, a former palace built in the 1850s for French Empress Eugénie.
Prior to Putin assuming the presidency, it was reported that he was personally contacted by the Kremlin while vacationing with family in the French town. It was in Biarritz that the spy chief was told by Boris Yeltsin he would become his successor.
And in the early 2000s, Russia unusually appointed an honorary consul to the tiny town, despite nearby cities of Bordeaux and Toulouse, which boast much higher populations, not having any similar diplomatic outposts.
The couple reportedly spent nearly £50,000 on a carpet and more than £5,000 on Japanese books alone when they bought it – with the £4 million four-storey seaside villa holding a special place in Putin’s heart.
A property in the neighboring town of Anglet belonging to a company owned by Putin’s ex-wife Lyudmila and her husband, businessman Artur Ocheretny, was graffitied by unknown individuals in late February after Russian launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Insults to Putin were repeatedly sprayed in blue paint on the walls and gates of the seafront Art Deco-style ‘Villa Suzanna’.
The activist posted photos of the villa interior on Twitter before his arrest
The activists photographed the belongings inside the villa
A chandelier decorates the lounge inside the villa, which activists said was bought with ‘mafia money’
Shamalov was one Putin’s associates hit by sanctions in the week’s following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A business tycoon, lawyer and petrochemical magnate, Shamalov had already been subject to US-backed sanctions in 2018 after he was publicly named as the spouse of Putin’s youngest daughter.
The Shamalov brothers are known to have deep connections to other members of the Putin elite who reshaped Russia’s economy in the 2000s and made personal fortunes doing so.
Known as Russia’s youngest billionaire, Kirill was married to Tikhonova for five years from 2013 to 2018.
Before he had even graduated from university, Kirill was appointed Gazprom’s Chief Legal Counsel for foreign economic activity in 2002. He was just 20 at the time.
Sibur stockholder Kirill Shamalov speaks to the media during an interview in Moscow, Russia
Kirill Shamalov is pictured with his next significant other, Zhanna Shamalov (right), pictured from Instagram, who he dated after marrying Putin’s daughter
Three years later, he became ‘Chief Legal Counsel’ at Gazprombank, then still a subsidiary of Gazprom before joining Sibur, the country’s largest petrochemical company as a vice president in 2008.
His father Nikolai, a close friend to Putin’s regime, remains a deputy chairman on the firm’s board and is a shareholder in Bank Rossiya, which intelligence officials have previously called the ‘personal bank’ for Russia’s elite and was also hit with sanctions.
While Kirill grew up in the 1990s, his father co-founded The Ozero Cooperative, a development of ‘dachas’ near St Petersburg, with Putin. Various members of the Ozero development went on to prominence in Putin’s Russia.
Kirill’s fortunes began to skyrocket soon after his wedding to the president’s daughter, a competitive acrobatic dancer who helped oversee a $1.7 billion expansion of Moscow State University.
Within 18 months of their ceremony and at just age 26, Shamalov was catapulted into the Forbes list of the world’s richest people and was among Russia’s youngest ever billionaires after acquiring a 17% stake in Sibur.
In February 2013, Kirill and Katerina wed in a ceremony at the Igora ski resort, nestled in the snow-capped hills which are a stone’s throw north from St Petersburg.
Photographs from Shamalov and Katerina’s three-day nuptials at the Igora ski resort in Russia in 2013 broke Putin’s taboo over never revealing details of his family life.
Kirill Shamalov and Ekaterina Tikhonova are pictured at their wedding
The “Alta Mira” villa is pictured in Biarritz south-western France, on February 27
No expense was spared on the celebration and the happy couple rode around inside a traditional Russian sleigh that had been drawn by three white horses.
The bride wore a long pearl-tinted wedding dress, the groom wore a dark overcoat. Guests wore white scarves embroidered with the letters ‘K&K’ in red thread.
But all 100 of those in attendance were sworn to secrecy and had to leave their phones behind.
Guards were posted on every corner of the resort. And no-one who has ever spoken out about that day has given their name publicly.
The Igora ski resort lies less than 20 miles from the Ozero dacha cooperative. The resort and surrounding plots of land are owned by companies with past or present connections to Shamalov and other Putin allies.
Putin himself has been known as a frequent visitor to the area – though he always stayed discreetly in a neighboring compound behind a tall fence.
Vladimir Putin has two daughters, which he attempt to keep out of the lime light
Katerina Tikhonova, also known as Katerina (Ekaterina) Putina, is a ballerina
Entertainment included an indoor ice-skating display, laser lights, and a mock-up Russian village with performers and cultural exhibits, according to a person who attended.
The wedding organizers wanted no photographs leaking out on social media, and the VIPs were shielded from the resort’s regular staff. Only one verified, black and white, image of their celebration was ever released.
But the happy couple went their separate ways in 2018 after Shamalov reportedly started dating London-based socialite Zhanna Volkova, just five years after he wed into Russia’s most powerful family.
Zhanna and Kirill would marry and toured the world together as a family, visiting London, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and France.
But he’s not the only wealthy Russian who buoyed to power with the help of Putin’s rising tide.
Another is Gennady Timchenko, another Putin ally who has been hit with recent sanctions and who became a shareholder in Bank Rossiya along with their father, Nikolai Shamalov. Timchenko has known Putin for more than 20 years.
In the 1990s, he began oil trading from St. Petersburg, when Putin was a rising politician there, and went on to co-found Gunvor, a company that grew to be one of the largest traders of Russian oil.
In 2014, the US government alleged that Putin had a personal stake in Gunvor, though it offered no evidence of this. Gunvor denied the allegation.
Timchenko was an important contact for Kirill Shamalov after the oil-trading magnate later became a large shareholder in Sibur.
Who is Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova?
She is the boogie-woogie dancing daughter of Vladimir Putin who was once thought of as a natural successor for the Russian President.
Mystery has long surrounded Katerina Tikhonova with the Kremlin having attempted to keep her out of the public eye.
The 32-year-old was named as the strongman’s child in 2015 by a senior Russian businessman and then in November by a dance colleague – but both later changed their stories.
Putin and her mother, Lyudmila Putina, divorced in 2013 and Katerina uses a surname inherited from her grandmother.
Mystery has long surrounded Katerina Tikhonova (pictured), the rumoured daughter of Vladimir Putin, with the Kremlin having attempted to keep her out of the public eye
While her identity has been widely assumed, it has never been confirmed by Tikhonova herself, her representatives or the Kremlin, which says it does not comment on the private lives of Putin’s close relatives.
Tikhonova runs publicly-funded projects at Moscow State University and serves as the WRRC’s vice president for expansion and marketing.
She is a major player in acrobatic rock’n’roll, a niche dance discipline she has competed in and helps manage through senior positions at the WRRC and the Russian national federation.
She and Kirill Shamalov wed in a sumptuous ceremony at Igora ski resort near St Petersburg and rode in a traditional sleigh pulled by three white horses.
Tikhonova is a major player in acrobatic rock’n’roll, a niche dance discipline she has competed in and helps manage through senior positions at the WRRC and the Russian national federation
Katerina Tikhonova, 31, is pictured, second from right, at a dancing conference
All guests were sworn to secrecy, and no official announcements were made.
The couple have since split, with few details forthcoming on what caused the marital breakdown.
Tikhonova may be best known for her dancing, but there were claims in Moscow that Putin is gradually grooming her as his eventual successor in 2024.
Whether his succession plan will go ahead remains to be seen, but reports emerged in 2017 suggesting that Putin was quietly grooming Katerina – also known as Ekaterina – for possible ‘tsardom’ to takeover.
‘Trying to run a woman through an election campaign in Russia is quite an interesting and modern political experiment,’ wrote Natalia Gevorkyan, a Putin biographer.
Tikhonova (pictured in a dance performance) runs publicly-funded projects at Moscow State University and serves as the WRRC’s vice president for expansion and marketing
‘Putin does not have a (male) heir – at least officially – but he has two daughters, and one of them, Ekaterina, has already entered the public space with several huge and costly projects,’ she wrote for Radio Svoboda website.
‘In 2024, Ekaterina will be 38. In theory, she can take part in the presidential elections and provide a calm time in old age for her father and his closest friends.’
Putin has said previously of his daughters from his marriage to ex-wife Lyudmila: ‘They are taking the first steps in their careers, but are making good progress. They are not involved in business or politics.
‘They have never been “star” children, they have never got pleasure from the spotlight being directed on them. They just live their own lives.
‘They live in Russia … They have never been educated anywhere except Russia.
‘I am proud of them, they continue to study and are working. My daughters speak three European languages fluently.’