Charity gala starring Putin 'raised no money': doctors
A charity gala for sick children featuring Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin along with Hollywood stars Sharon Stone and Kevin Costner yielded no donations, doctors alleged Saturday.
The televised event on December 10, also featuring actors Monica Bellucci and Ornella Muti, was held in Russia's northwestern city of Saint Petersburg.
At one point Putin sat at a table next to Muti and Costner and proceeded to sing the Fats Waller classic "Blueberry Hill." He also picked out the tune of a Soviet pop song on a grand piano.
News reports said the concert was held by a little-known organisation called the Federation Foundation to raise money for children with cancer and eye problems, and stars were shown visiting hospitals.
But the mother of one of the children visited by Stone has stirred up a storm by alleging that the gala did not generate any money.
"Three months have passed since the moment (of the concert). There is no money, no aid, and no foundation itself," Olga Kuznetsova, the mother of a 13-year-old girl, wrote in a letter to the Echo of Moscow radio station.
She also appealed in a message on Twitter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The foundation said in a statement ahead of the concert that "money collected during the event would be donated to children's centres to purchase necessary diagnostic equipment, medical instruments and medications."
Anatoly Rivkin, head doctor at the city's No. 31 Children's Hospital, which was visited by actors Stone, Mickey Rourke and Alain Delon, confirmed to AFP that no equipment or medication ever came from the foundation.
"We received no money," he said, adding that stars that visited the hospital brought only fruit and toys.
A spokesman for the head doctor at the Russian Children's Clinical Hospital in Moscow, Nikolai Vaganov, told AFP it was also approached by the foundation but received no financial support.
The foundation asked for 50 letters with children's requests for the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus and later held a brief pop concert and gave children gifts of rubber balls, the spokesman said.
The allegations sparked questions about the legitimacy of the high-profile charity gala.
"The money for sick children got lost in someone's pocket," Vesti FM radio station headlined its story.
A spokeswoman for the Federation Foundation, Kristina Snickers, told the RIA Novosti news agency that the foundation held events to promote causes and encourage wealthy people to donate, but did not collect money itself.
"We do not collect money for anything. We do not even have an account," she told the agency.
"There are people who support our foundation and give money. They do not transfer any money to us, but simply help," she said.
It remained unclear how the foundation, which a public registry showed was legally registered two weeks after the concert actually took place, managed to attract top international stars and Putin.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Gzt.Ru online newspaper that he could not comment. "We don't deal with charity, the foundation deals with it, so ask them," he said briefly.
© 2011 AFP