Oligarch Abramovich paid for Tel Aviv apartment that Putin gave his old teacher

Russian dictator was long thought to have made generous gesture to widowed educator, but records show Russian-Israeli billionaire purchased asset through shell company

Israeli nonagenarian Mina Yuditskaya Berliner in a Tel Aviv apartment said to have been purchased by her former student, Vladimir Putin. (JTA/Ben Sales)
Israeli nonagenarian Mina Yuditskaya Berliner in a Tel Aviv apartment said to have been purchased by her former student, Vladimir Putin. (JTA/Ben Sales)

Vladimir Putin had long been thought to have bought an apartment in Tel Aviv for an old teacher of his, in a rare upbeat story about the Russian dictator, but newly unearthed documents have shown that oligarch Roman Abramovich actually paid for the property.

Mina Yuditskaya-Berliner was Putin’s high school German teacher in today’s St. Petersburg in the 1960s.

She moved to Israel in 1973 and lost track of Putin for decades until noticing him in public appearances during his rise to power.

Then, while in her 80s, she saw that Putin was set to visit Israel and asked the Russian consulate if she could attend the sidelines of an event to get a glimpse of her old student.

In a surprise for the elderly widow, during the 2005 visit, she was hosted at a Jerusalem hotel and treated to a private audience with Putin. The two joked together over tea, and Putin took down her address. Gifts later arrived at her apartment, including a watch and a copy of Putin’s book bearing a personal message.

Shortly after that, an employee of the Russian government showed up at her doorstep and took her to see some apartments in the center of Tel Aviv, she told Ynet.

“I told him all I needed was a flat that would be near the bus station, the market and kuppat holim,” she said, using the Hebrew term for a health clinic. “It all happened fast from there on. A few months later the movers came to my [rented] apartment in Florentine [in southern Tel Aviv], packed everything up and moved me,” she said.

In this December 2, 2010, file photo, then-Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, right, congratulates members of the Russian delegation, from left: conductor Valery Gergiyev, businessman Roman Abramovich and Nizhny Novgorod governor Valery Shantsev; after it was announced that Russia would host the 2018 soccer World Cup, in Zurich, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Alexei Nikolsky, Pool, File)

Putin was believed to have bought her the apartment, but according to a Sunday report, the Russian-Israeli oligarch Abramovich actually paid for the property.

Records showed that Yuditskaya-Berliner received $245,000 from N.P. Gemini Holdings Ltd., a shell company based in Cyprus, the same day she bought the apartment in June 2005, The Washington Post reported.

Abramovich’s name does not appear in the documents, but other leaked files from a UK court case listed Abramovich as the company’s owner.

A representative for Abramovich said the gifted apartment had been arranged by Rabbi Alexander Boroda, the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. Yuditskaya-Berliner had been living in rough conditions and the federation found her a suitable apartment and donors, he told The Post. Abramovich is the federation’s board of directors chairman.

The apartment deal appears to show financial ties between Putin and Abramovich, which the oligarch has previously denied.

Yuditskaya-Berliner died in 2017 at the age of 96. She left the property to the Russian Federation, which is still listed as the apartment’s owner.

Abramovich is the former owner of England’s Chelsea soccer club and was once Israel’s wealthiest individual. The expense of the apartment would have been a trifle to the billionaire.

Abramovich has been under sanctions pressure since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and has been seen in Israel several times since the war started. He took Israeli citizenship in 2018, although it is not clear how much time he spends in the country.

Analysts have said Russia’s invasion has been a personal disaster for Abramovich, wiping billions off the value of his assets.

Abramovich amassed a fortune in Russia’s oil and aluminum industries following the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. In 2005, Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom paid $13 billion for the Sibneft oil company controlled by Abramovich, allowing Putin’s Kremlin to recapture state influence in the lucrative energy industry.

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