Putin accused of pinching Super Bowl ring
A diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring has sparked a minor international controversy, with claims that a light-fingered Vladimir Putin stole the ring from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in 2005.
But the Russian president's spokesman has hit back, saying the US$25,000 ring that now sits in the Kremlin's library was in fact a gift from the billionaire business magnate.
Claims that Putin had pocketed the ring were just "weird" and Kraft should see a psychoanalyst, suggested Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
According to the New York Post, Kraft recounted to the audience at a recent awards ceremony in New York City how he had met Putin with a number of other business executives in St Petersburg in 2005, shortly after the Patriots had beaten the Philadelphia Eagles in the annual Super Bowl.
Kraft said he only intended to show Putin the Super Bowl ring, around 70 of which are given to the winning team in the annual American football championship, but he claimed that Putin had immediately pocketed it.
"I took out the ring and showed it to [Putin], and he put it on and he goes, 'I can kill someone with this ring'," Kraft told the crowd at Carnegie Hall's Medal of Excellence gala at the Waldorf-Astoria, according to the Post.
"I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out."
When he demanded the ring back, Kraft said the White House intervened and asked him to say the ring was a gift to save international embarrassment.
But Kraft admitted at the awards ceremony that he really wanted Mr Putin to hand over the valuable memento.
"I had an emotional tie to the ring, it has my name on it. I don't want to see it on eBay. There was a pause on the other end of the line [when he was called from the White House], and the voice repeated, 'It would really be in the best interest if you meant to give the ring as a present'."
In accordance with those wishes, Kraft said he released a statement at the time saying: "President Putin, a great and knowledgeable sports fan, was clearly taken with its uniqueness. I decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and [his] leadership."
The whole story was just "weird", according to Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
"What Mr Kraft is saying now is weird," Peskov told CNN.
"I was standing 20 centimetres away from him and Mr Putin and saw and heard how Mr Kraft gave this ring as a gift."
The 4.94-carat ring is in the Kremlin's library, where all official state gifts are kept, he said.
Stacey James, a spokesman for Kraft, later said the story was a humorous anecdote that Kraft "retells for laughs."
"He loves that the ring is at the Kremlin and, as he stated back in 2005, he continues to have great respect for Russia and the leadership of President Putin," he said.
"An added benefit from the attention this story gathered eight years ago was the creation of some Patriots fan clubs in Russia."
There is some solace for Kraft, as he also received rings for the Patriots' Super Bowl victories in the 2001 and 2003 seasons.
Sydney Morning Herald