Best friends forever Journalists link ‘Putin’s palace’ to banker Yuri Kovalchuk and a Crimean retreat built for Khrushchev
Since Alexey Navalny released a bombshell report last month that reawakened the public’s interest in Vladimir Putin’s alleged mansion on the Black Sea coast, journalists in Russia and abroad have revealed new details about the lavish residence outside Gelendzhik. Most recently, investigative reporters at Sobesednik, Proekt, The Bell, and other outlets have linked the infamous “palace” to Yuri Kovalchuk, the principal shareholder of Rossiya Bank and one of Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends.
The corporate email address listed for the St.-Petersburg-based firm “Binom” (the registered owner of Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” on the Black Sea coast) is hosted on the domain “llcinvest.ru.” According to the website Sobesednik, this domain belongs to the company “Standart,” which is in turn affiliated with Yuri Kovalchuk.
“Standart” is registered at the same address as “Igora Drive” and several other assets owned by Kovalchuk, says the news site The Bell. In fact, some of these businesses also use the llcinvest.ru domain. Spokespeople for Binom confirmed to Sobesednik that these firms all belong to a single conglomerate.
Binom also verified that it employs Denis Matyunin, whose name appears in documents as the legal representative for the owner of the “Shellest” yacht, which Sobesednik says periodically “ferries up” to the coastline near Gelendzhik, where Vladimir Putin’s alleged “palace” is located. The yacht itself is registered to the “Revival of Maritime Traditions” nonprofit partnership, which is also reportedly tied to Yuri Kovalchuk, according to both Sobesednik and the anti-corruption initiative Scanner Project.
Navalny’s investigation into “Putin’s palace” also mentioned Yuri Kovalchuk
Rumors and reports about a mansion for Vladimir Putin outside Gelendzhik have circulated since 2010. The public’s interest reawakened in January 2021 when Alexey Navalny released an investigative report describing the construction (and perpetual remodeling) of the seaside compound. In his report, Navalny mentions Yuri Kovalchuk as one of the businessmen who allegedly helped finance both the palace and several adjacent vineyards and wineries.
After Navalny’s investigation became an international sensation, Alexander Ponomarenko announced that he cut ties with the property back in 2016 (though federal records still list him as the sole owner), and the billionaire Arkady Rotenberg publicly claimed to own the constriction site, which he says is the future home of an “apartment hotel” complex. But Rotenberg and Ponomarenko are old business partners, and open sources alone make it “difficult, to say the least,” to verify the palace’s true owner, says The Bell.
Kovalchuk might also have helped Putin buy a dacha complex near Yalta that was a famous retreat for Soviet leaders
The “Wisteria” dacha complex outside Yalta was originally built for Nikita Khrushchev, but his successor Leonid Brezhnev enjoyed more time there than any Soviet leader. After the USSR’s collapse, the compound became a vacation resort. In 2004, the Russian state bank VTB (then “Vneshtorgbank”) bought the facility, but the Ukrainian government canceled the sale a year later. According to Leonid Kuchma, who was Ukraine’s president at the time, Russia wanted Wisteria as a residence for Vladimir Putin.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the authorities seized Wisteria and then privatized it in 2019, selling the property for 1.2 billion rubles ($16.3 million). The Crimean government has not disclosed the buyers’ names, but the news outlet Krym Realii (designated by the Russian Justice Ministry as a “foreign agent”) reported that a firm called “Oreanda-12,” owned by someone named Janis Ermanis, ultimately bought the dacha complex — a remarkable acquisition for a company with just 10,000 rubles ($135) in charter capital, no profits, and no website or contacts listed publicly.
Journalists at Proekt tracked down Ermanis in Moscow and learned that he’s a trained economist who offers private lessons in Wing Chun kung fu. Speaking to Proekt, he neither confirmed nor denied his role in buying Wisteria. Colleagues and relatives say he lives a modest life.
Ermanis is listed as Oreanda-12’s director and sole shareholder, says Proekt. The company’s shareholder register, moreover, is a St.-Petersburg-based firm called “Accounting and Registration Center,” which formally belongs to five individuals with known ties to Kovalchuk’s Rossiya Bank. The same firm in St. Petersburg acts as the shareholder register for Rossiya Bank, the National Media Group, and almost all Kovalchuk’s assets in Crimea.
Wisteria hasn’t welcomed any new guests in more than five years, locals told Proekt. An employee working at the neighboring Kremlin-run “Nizhnyaya Oreanda” retreat told journalists that construction work is underway at the vacant compound. Including Wisteria, President Putin may have more than 20 official and unofficial residences across Russia and Crimea, writes Proekt.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock