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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spanish Villa Was Putin's Getaway

Vladimir Putin made frequent visits to Boris Berezovsky's villa on the Spanish coast last year, slipping into Spain discreetly and without a visa, a Spanish newspaper reported.

Putin's visits were discovered accidentally by Spanish police who were spying on a suspected Russian mafia boss who lived next door, said La Razon, a conservative, pro-government daily.

The visits stopped after Putin was appointed prime minister in August, it said.

Citing unnamed sources in the Spanish Interior and Defense ministries, La Razon reported that Putin visited Berezovsky's villa in Sotogrande, an exclusive beach area in Spain's southeastern province of Cadiz at least five times in 1999.

Putin's clandestine visits to Spain "faithfully reflect the personality of the Russian spy," La Razon said in an editorial. Putin left the KGB in 1990 after a 15-year career that took him to communist East Germany. Before being named prime minister, he was head of the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor, and secretary of the Kremlin's Security Council.

The Kremlin press service and a secretary in Berezovsky's office said Friday they had no information concerning Putin's private visits to Spain.

The article in La Razon appeared June 13, the day Putin arrived in Spain with his wife, Lyudmila, for an official two-day visit. The report was picked up by Italian's Panorama tabloid, The Times of London and the on-line newspaper.

The article may have added to the cloud of anxiety that overshadowed Putin's visit to Spain. Although one aim of his trip was to assure wary investors that Russia was safe for business after its 1998 financial collapse, Putin spent much of the visit fending off concerns over the state of democracy and freedom of the press because of the June 13 arrest of media mogul Vladimir Gusinsky.

La Razon said Putin never obtained a Spanish visa for his visits in Sotogrande and did not inform the Spanish government of his private trips to the country. The paper speculated that Putin, who traveled to Gibraltar by plane from Moscow or London, and sailed from there to Sotogrande on a yacht, may have traveled "under a different identity."

The paper also said that his trips "could not have passed unnoticed" by MI6, the British secret service. Gibraltar is British territory.

When reached by telephone Friday, the Spanish Interior and Defense ministries refused to confirm or deny the newspaper report. The British government spokesman refused to comment.

Putin's trips to Sotogrande were discovered last year by Spanish police who had Berezovsky's neighbor under surveillance at Interpol's request, the newspaper said. The house next door to Berezovsky's villa belonged to a Russian citizen suspected of "running a mafia organization" in Moscow, it said.

"The police placed investigators to monitor all of his movements inside and outside the house he occupied. In the course of surveillance, they found out that their 'object' talked in the garden with his neighbors, also of Russian nationality," La Razon said.

"The police were stunned to discover that among them were the then-secretary of the Russian Security Council, Vladimir Putin, and Russian oil and media tycoon Boris Berezovsky."

The newspapers said Putin's visits were always restricted to the Sotogrande surroundings and carried out with "great discretion."

La Razon speculated that during the visits, Putin and Berezovsky plotted Putin's meteoric rise. A Kremlin insider and a member of "the family" close to former President Boris Yeltsin, Berezovsky is credited with helping mastermind Putin's rise to prime minister and then to acting president on Dec. 31. He was elected president in March.

Shortly after Putin was appointed prime minister, La Razon wrote, Berezovsky threw a great party at the El Cucurucho beach club. The mogul spent 85,000 pesetas (about $500) per person at the all-night party, which featured fireworks and an abundance of champagne, vodka and caviar, the report said.

f Igor Semenenko contributed to this article.