A German journalist who wrote extensively about Russia and President Vladimir Putin received hundreds of thousands of euros from a Kremlin-linked oligarch, a new investigation has revealed.

Who’s the journalist?

Hubert Seipel, a journalist for the German TV and radio companies ARD and NDR and one of the few western writers who has, over the years, had repeated and direct contact with Putin and has met him, in his own words, “hundreds of times.”

What has he written?

Among Seipel’s works are books including the 2015 Putin: Inside Views of Power and the 2021 Putin's Power: Why Europe Needs Russia.

Both portray the Russian president in a favourable light.

He also produced a documentary about Putin in 2012, which was broadcast on NDR, and had an exclusive interview with the Russian head of state two years later.

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Who was he paid by?

According to broadcaster ZDF, Der Spiegel and the German investigative outlet Paper Trailer Media, he received a total of 600,000 euros ($650,000) for two books via a Cyprus-based company linked to Alexei Mordashov, an oligarch who is close to Putin.

Mordashov, who owns the Russian steel group Severstal, has been hit with sanctions by the United States, the European Union and Britain since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, AFP reports.

The accusations are among revelations published late Tuesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on confidential files from financial services companies based in Cyprus.

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What has Seipel said?

When questioned by the ICIJ consortium, he rejected the idea that he was “some sort of agent of Putin.”

But he did admit receiving money from Mordashov, saying “his support relates exclusively to the book projects.”

He did not confirm the amounts he’d received but said that despite being given 600,000 euros, it had not affected his impartiality.

“I always set clear legal boundaries that guaranteed my independence,” he said.

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Previously, he had denied taking money from Russia.

What have fellow journalists said about it?

Those not on the payroll of the Kremlin are understandably outraged.

Deputy Chief Editor of the German newspaper BILD, Paul Ronzheimer, said in a post on social media: “As a journalist and a person, I feel nothing but contempt for this behavior on the part of Hubert Seipel.

“Seipel allowed himself to be bought by a war criminal and told reporters like me and others on talk shows, especially since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, that we were all naive and that Putin was right in many ways in his criticism of NATO etc.

“This is so disgusting that you hardly know what to say about it.”

What about his employers?

They’re not very happy at all.

Joachim Knuth, chairman of public broadcaster NDR, part of the German national network ARD, said: “We suspect that we – and therefore our audience – have been deliberately misled.

“We are now going to look further into the matter and are considering legal action.”

According to the chairman of NDR, Seipel admitted to the channel that he had received money from the Russian oligarch, in two instalments in 2013 and 2018, for books as part of "sponsorship contracts".

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But the NDR channel said it “sees in this a significant conflict of interest that casts doubt on Mr. Seipel's journalistic independence.”

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