Disgraced employee takes Putin's seat

World
A man looks in Moscow on May 21, 2013, at a computer screen displaying one of the pictures of Alexei Ustimchuk, a former officer of the Federal Bodyguard Service (FSO), posing behind Vladimir Putin's desk in the Kremlin. Picture: AFP

Moscow - Russia's federal guard service launched an investigation after photos appeared in the media of a disgraced former employee posing behind Vladimir Putin's desk in the Kremlin, an official said Tuesday.

Pictures of the man, named Alexei Ustimchuk, sitting diminutively behind the giant desk in Putin's Kremlin office, spread through the internet as people ridiculed the lack of security that permitted a simple employee such access.

Published first by tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets, the photos show the young man in a wood-paneled room with two armchairs and a Russian flag, looking identical to one where Putin works in the Kremlin and where he held a meeting with Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin early this month.

"We are checking whether these pictures are authentic or not," a spokesman for the federal guard service (FSO) Sergei Devyatov said Tuesday.

The FSO, Moscow's version of the American secret service, is responsible for ensuring the personal security of Putin and Russia's other top leaders.

Moskovsky Komsomolets did not explain where it obtained the pictures, but said that Ustimchuk, who was an officer in the FSO's communications department between 2004 and 2011, posted the pictures on dating sites to "impress the ladies".

"What girl wouldn't want a captain with direct access to the president's study?" Moskovsky Komsomolets said.

"Turns out that any scoundrel can march into the office of the head of state and have a photo session," the paper said, though it was not clear what year the photo was snapped.

Ustimchuk is currently behind bars after being convicted over the high-profile kidnapping of the son of Russian businessman Yevgeny Kaspersky last year.

A military tribunal sentenced him to four and a half years in a prison colony on charges of kidnapping and extortion. His associates are still on trial in Moscow.

-AFP

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