Entrepreneurs have not been shy about trying to capitalize on the popularity of top officials, with competing vodka brands like "Medvedeff" and "Putinka" having appeared on supermarket shelves in recent years.
But controversial self-styled inventor Viktor Petrik may have taken things too far by not even altering the spelling of Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu's last name on a water filter sold by the little-known scientist's company.
The ministry told Ekho Moskvy radio Friday that it had not granted Petrik permission to use Shoigu's last name on the Gerakl Shoigu, or "Hercules Shoigu," water filters sold by Petrik's company, Golden Formula. The company saw a turnover of $1 million in 2008, according to Interfax’s Spark database on Russian businesses.
It is the latest scandal in recent months surrounding Petrik, who served a prison term for fraud and extortion in the 1980s and has been called a charlatan by many leading Russian scientists but nonetheless enjoys close ties to top officials.
Petrik told The Moscow Times on Friday that Shoigu had visited his St. Petersburg laboratory several years ago and seen the filters himself. "When I said that I wanted to name the filters after him, I understood that there was no objection from his side,” Petrik said by telephone from St. Petersburg.
Petrik conceded that he did not have written permission to use Shoigu's name, which he said he would remove from the filters only after being asked personally by the minister.
Shoigu is not the only member of the country’s ruling elite used by Petrik to promote his products. Some of his filters have featured the logo of the ruling United Russia party, headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The party's top official after Putin, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, is a longtime supporter of Petrik. The scientist won a 2007 competition sponsored by United Russia called Clean Water.
Perhaps Petrik’s biggest claim to fame is a second water filter, which he and Gryzlov, an engineer by training, filed a patent for in 2007 and say turns radioactive water into pure drinking water.
Gryzlov is still on good terms with Petrik, a source in United Russia's faction in the Duma told The Moscow Times. The Duma speaker's spokeswoman, Natalya Virtuozova, said party officials have sent a written request to Petrik asking him to remove the United Russia logo from the filters, Vedomosti reported Friday.
Petrik admitted that his rights to use the logo have expired and said he no longer sells filters bearing the emblem. But he said he plans to ask the party for the rights to use the logo in the future.
Petrik added that he is planning to give party officials data concerning the performance of his filters in the northwestern city of Novgorod, where most public schools were outfitted with Golden Formula filters under the supervision of Federation Council Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova, who is also a senior United Russia official.
Petrik has no formal training in any applied science, and several leading members of the Russian Academy of Sciences have accused him of quackery. But he has defended his work and says he welcomes scrutiny from the scientific community.