Russian media personality and former presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak speaks to reporters in Washington, DC in February 2018
Vilnius (AFP) - Ksenia Sobchak, a Russian media figure and the daughter of Vladimir Putin’s mentor, has fled her country for Lithuania, border officials in Vilnius said Wednesday, after Russian news agencies reported that she had become a suspect in an extortion case.
Sobchak dismissed the case as the Russian government’s attempt to put pressure on her media group, Attention Media.
“It is clear that it’s an attack on my editorial team, the last remaining free editorial team in Russia which had to be pressured,” the 40-year-old said on Telegram.
An official at Lithuania’s state border service speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP that Sobchak had arrived on an Israeli passport.
In September, Lithuania barred entry to Russians travelling with tourist visas over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sobchak, a popular media personality and journalist who ran against Putin in the 2018 presidential election, is reportedly his goddaughter.
Her father, the late Saint Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, was once Putin’s boss.
Earlier in the day, Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Sobchak had departed Moscow during the night, citing a police source that said she had travelled to Lithuania via Belarus.
TASS and state-run channel RT cited law enforcement sources as saying Sobchak was suspected of large-scale extortion, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Kirill Sukhanov, the commercial director of Attention Media, was arrested earlier in the week as part of the investigation.
Attention Media runs a number of social media projects, including Sobchak’s YouTube channel that has over three million subscribers.
“Kirill, we love you and we don’t believe anything,” Sobchak said on Telegram.
Russian media said Sobchak’s villa outside Moscow was searched in connection with a case against her commercial director, Arian Romanovsky.
Sobchak has for years been involved in Russian opposition politics, though she remains a divisive figure among Putin critics.
When she ran for the presidency against Putin in 2018, Russian opposition politicians accused her of being used by the Kremlin as a spoiler candidate.
Thousands of Russians have fled the country since Putin launched an attack on Ukraine in February, with a second wave leaving after he announced a military mobilisation on September 21.