Posted on: January 20, 2021, 05:45h.
Last updated on: January 20, 2021, 07:56h.
Publicly, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a distaste for gambling. But according to leaked images purported to be of the president’s palace on the Black Sea coast, his private feelings may be quite different.
The images are part of an investigation published Tuesday on YouTube and the blog of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. They appear to show the lavish $1 billion palace includes a casino, a strip club, and a games room with arcade and slot machines.
According to Kremlin critic Navalny, the palace was paid for with funds stolen from the Russian state by Putin’s inner circle. In his two-hour YouTube video, which was viewed 3 million times within two hours of its publication, Navalny described it as “the biggest bribe in the world.”
The anticorruption activist was arrested last weekend on his return to Russia from Germany. Navalny accuses Putin of ordering his poisoning by the nerve agent Novichok in August, an attack he barely survived.
On Monday, a Moscow judge ordered Navalny to be held in jail for 30 days for violating the parole terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement. That charge now could put him in prison for years. Navalny says the charges are trumped-up and politically motivated.
In 2009, as part of a “corruption crackdown,” Putin summarily closed all casinos, card clubs, and slots parlors in Russia’s cities after denouncing gambling as a “public scourge.”
He then pressured lawmakers to pass legislation to exile all casino gambling to four far-flung economic zones.
At the same time, vast sums of money were being diverted to build the Black Sea palace, according to a 2010 open letter to then-President Dmitry Medvedev by whistle-blower businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who now lives in exile.
According to the letter, this was private investment money intended to fund public health care contracts and other projects.
Navalny’s images show an ornate casino room decked out with table games. The mansion also includes a theater and an underground ice-rink, while on the grounds there are vineyards, and even a church.
“There are impregnable fences, its own port, its own security, a church, its own permit system, a no-fly zone, and even its own border checkpoint. It is absolutely a separate state within Russia,” Navalny says in his video, which was recorded before his arrest published afterwards.
“It is the most secretive and guarded facility in Russia,” he adds. “It isn’t a country house or a residence — it’s an entire city, or rather a kingdom.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday told state news agency RIA Novosti that all Navalny’s claims were untrue.