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Putin’s palace Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation investigates the Russian president’s billion-dollar residence on the Black Sea

Alexey Navalny / YouTube

Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has released a bombshell investigation into a $1.35-billion residence built for Russian President Vladimir Putin near a resort town on the Black Sea. Navalny’s team published the report the day after the opposition figure was put in pre-trial detention at Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina prison. In addition to sharing the building’s floor plan and visualizations of the interiors, the anti-corruption activists recount the history of the construction project and dig into how it was financed by companies connected to members of Putin’s inner circle. “Meduza” sums up the highlights from the investigation.

Not far from the Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik, there is a 17,700-square-meter (more than 190,500-square-foot) palace built exclusively for Russian President Vladimir Putin, says a new investigation from Alexey Navalny’s non-profit, the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). 

Word about the palace first got out in 2010 — it was revealed by businessman Sergey Kolesnikov, who claimed to have been involved in the building project. Kolesnikov published plans, contracts, and other documents linked to the construction, and said that the project was being overseen by businessman Nikolai Shamalov on behalf of Vladimir Putin. This provoked a major media scandal and a few months later Shamalov sold the property to billionaire businessman Alexander Ponomarenko, who said he planned to finish building the palace as a hotel complex. 

However, according to the FBK’s investigation, the sale was a sham — Ponomarenko paid just $350,000 for the palace (a thousand times less than the sum reported in the media) and one of Shamalov’s firms soon took over as the facility’s management company. 

The residence is located on a 68-hectare (168-acre) property overlooking the Black Sea. The site of the palace itself includes a helipad, a full-fledged ice palace, a church, an amphitheater, a greenhouse, a 2,500-square-meter (nearly 27,000-square-foot) tea house, as well as an 80-meter (about 260-foot) bridge. A special tunnel was built into the seaside cliff to provide access to the beach, and it also includes a tasting room in the middle with the “best possible view of the sea.”

The palace exterior. This photo was circulated online back in 2011.
Russian Wikileaks / Wikimedia Commons

The 7,000-hectare (nearly 17,300-acre) plot of land adjacent to Putin’s residence belongs to the Russian FSB, though it has been transferred to the firm that owns the palace until 2068. The FBK believes that the “only purpose of the lease is to create some sort of buffer between the palace and Putin.” The anti-corruption activists also discovered that the FSB doesn’t allow fishing on the cape where the palace is built, and that there is an official no-fly zone above the property.

The FBK’s report includes a detailed floor plan of the palace, which they claim to have received from one of the contractors — he handed it over to investigators because he “was stunned and infuriated by the luxurious furnishings.” To verify their authenticity, Navalny’s anti-corruption team compared the plans to photos of the palace’s interiors, which leaked online in 2011.

The palace interior. This photo was circulated online back in 2011.
Russian Wikileaks / Wikimedia Commons

As underscored in the investigation, the entire palace is filled with exclusive pieces of furniture that are made individually by order. For example, the sofas inside the residence cost 1.5–2 million rubles each (that’s about $20,000–$27,000 — and the FBK counted 47 sofas in total); the palace’s most expensive table costs 4.1 million rubles (nearly $56,000). 

The palace has three floors and includes (among other things) a pool, saunas, Turkish baths, a spa, a reading room, a music room, a hookah bar, a cinema, a tasting room, a wine cellar, and a casino, as well as more than a dozen guest bedrooms. The master bedroom is 260 square meters (nearly 2,800 square feet). 

The FBK also uncovered that not far from the palace there’s 300 hectares (about 740 acres) of vineyards, a chateau, wineries, and oyster farms — according to the investigation, these are also “Putin’s possessions.” The wineries are furnished with luxury items, as well — the FBK points out a coffee table worth 4.3 million rubles (more than $58,000), an Italian toilet brush that costs 62,000 rubles (about $840), and a toilet paper holder valued at 92,000 rubles (nearly $1,250).

“Putin’s Palace. History of the World’s Largest Bribe”
Alexey Navalny

According to the FBK, the construction of the complex was financed by companies linked to Vladimir Putin’s friends — including the state-controlled companies Rosneft and Transneft — with the help of bogus lease payments and other corruption schemes. The anti-corruption activists call this scheme “the world’s largest bribe” and estimate the total amount spent on the palace and the vineyards to be at least 100 billion rubles ($1.35 billion). 

Commenting on the investigation, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a “badly broken record.” “We already explained many years ago that Putin doesn’t have any palaces,” he said. 

Summary by Grigory Levchenko

Translated by Eilish Hart

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