MOSCOW (Reuters) - A colleague of Katerina Tikhonova from the world of acrobatic rock‘n‘roll confirmed that she is the younger daughter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and then later withdrew his comments, saying he had misheard the question.
It is the second time in two years that Reuters has disclosed Tikhonova’s relationship to the president, citing a named source, and then been publicly challenged post publication.
World Rock‘n‘Roll Confederation (WRRC) Vice President for Legal Affairs Manfred Mohab told Reuters in an interview on Sunday during a dance event that he knew Tikhonova through their work together on the confederation’s presidium.
When asked whether he knew Tikhonova was Putin’s daughter, he said: “Yes. I know her, yes of course.” Asked a second time, he nodded and said: “Yes.”
The Kremlin and Tikhonova did not respond to requests for comment.
After the Reuters article was published on Tuesday, Mohab telephoned Reuters and said: “I can’t confirm that I know the daughter of Mr. Putin. I have nothing to do with them.”
Asked why he had earlier said Tikhonova was Putin’s daughter, Mohab said: “Believe me, it was so loud in the hall that a lot of the things I can’t understand and other things I felt that I didn’t understand right. So it’s not sure that I gave you the right answers.”
Mohab said he had problems with his hearing. “I’m sure we had some misunderstandings.”
In 2015, Andrey Akimov, deputy chairman of the board of directors at Russian lender Gazprombank, told Reuters that Tikhonova was Putin's daughter but later denied the statement. Reuters also confirmed her identity through two other sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. [reut.rs/2ztup0f]
After the report, Gazprombank said Akimov was "surprised and bewildered" by the quotes attributed to him by Reuters and that he had made no such remarks. [reut.rs/2zHzVAJ]
Akimov and a representative for Gazprombank did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Putin, a former KGB intelligence officer, is famously guarded about his private life and has fought to keep his two daughters, Maria and Katerina, away from the public eye.
While Katerina’s 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.
Mohab, in his comments to Reuters on Sunday, became the first official to publicly identify her relationship to the Russian president since Akimov in 2015.
Tikhonova, who uses a surname inherited from her grandmother, runs publicly-funded projects at Moscow State University and serves as the WRRC’s vice president for expansion and marketing.
Aged 31, 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 is also married to Kirill Shamalov, the son of one of Putin's closest friends, who has since made a fortune of at least $1 billion through dealings in Russia's largest petrochemical company. [reut.rs/2BfT74A]
Mohab spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the World Cup Rock‘n‘Roll European Championship in Moscow. Asked if Tikhonova’s personal connection to the president had been a boon for acrobatic rock‘n‘roll, he said: “Yes, of course.”
The sport is developing thanks to Russia, he said. “We have an expansion project which is working on all continents and in a lot of countries. And this is all going out from Russia.”
With just over 200 adult pairs in the WRRC world rankings, acrobatic rock‘n‘roll remains a relatively obscure discipline in competitive dancing that is most popular in eastern Europe.
Around 9,000 people actively participate in acrobatic rock‘n‘roll in Russia and organizers aim to add another 3,000 people by 2020, according to the national federation.
Reuters reported in December last year that Moscow was building a publicly-funded $30 million (£23 million) complex for the sport on the outskirts of the city, an investment which dwarfs that spent in other countries and on some bigger sports in Russia.
Editing by Philippa Fletcher