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Putin's Judo Buddy Didn't Get a Leg Up

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin didn’t help his judo-practicing friend of 40 years, Arkady Rotenberg, become a millionaire supplying pipes to gas producer Gazprom, the businessman said.

“Knowing high government officials has never hurt anyone in our country but it’s by far not helped everyone,” Rotenberg said, Kommersant reported Wednesday. “For me it’s unacceptable to use such connections.”

Rotenberg, 58, a professional martial arts coach, said the discipline gleaned from sports and “genetic makeup” played the decisive role in making him and his brother Boris successful businessmen. Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, 53, appeared in the final two spots on this year’s Forbes list of Russia’s 100 richest people, with an estimated worth of $700 million each.

The 57-year-old prime minister practiced judo with the Rotenberg brothers in the 1960s, and Arkady Rotenberg later ran a St. Petersburg sports club whose honorary head was Putin. The brothers now own SMP Bank and Stroigazmontazh, one of the largest suppliers of pipes to Gazprom.

The brothers built up their pipe business gradually and have been dealing with Gazprom for years, Rotenberg told Kommersant. Stroigazmontazh won 19 Gazprom tenders last year, he said, declining to give the total volume of contracts.

Stroigazmontazh was also awarded contracts without a tender to build one pipeline to supply gas to Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and another to Vladivostok, host of the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. ? 

“There aren’t any other companies in Russia that can even theoretically realize these kinds of projects within such deadlines,” Rotenberg said. Just the process of organizing a tender can take up to a year, he said.

Stroigazmontazh does not let friendship interfere while competing with Stroitransgaz, the pipeline builder owned by oil trader Gennady Timchenko, Rotenberg said. Timchenko was one of the founding members of the judo club Rotenberg ran in St. Petersburg.

Rotenberg said he views his relationship with Putin as a “responsibility,” because he does not want to let his old friend down. The two men still have “friendly” relations, he said, though they don’t see each other as often as before.

The businessman told Kommersant that he did not know he was worth $700 million and said he would get back to the newspaper once he had counted his fortune.

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