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Putin’s childhood judo partner claims to own £1bn palace linked to Russian leader

Written by on 31/01/2021

Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg has said on he owns a £1bn Black Sea palace which jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has linked to President Vladimir Putin.

The anti-corruption campaigner and his supporters have published a video of the luxury mansion and estate, which they claim belongs to the Russian leader, and has been viewed more than 103 million times.

Mr Navalny has dubbed it “Putin’s biggest secret”.

Screengrab of the Putin Palace on the Black sea. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny
Image: Vladimir Putin has denied ownership of the Black Sea palace. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny
A view of the site - complete with helicopter pad
Image: A view of the estate – complete with helicopter pad. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny

Mr Rotenberg, a former judo partner of Mr Putin who sold his stake in a gas pipeline construction firm in 2019 for a reported $990m (£722m), said he bought the palace two years ago.

Speaking in a video, Mr Rotenberg said: “Now it will no longer be a secret, I am the beneficiary.

“There was a rather complicated facility, there were a lot of creditors, and I managed to become the beneficiary.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin decorates businessman Arkady Rotenberg
Image: Vladimir Putin and businessman Arkady Rotenberg are long-time friends

He gave no further financial details of the sale or how it had been funded.

Mr Putin has denied ownership of the palace.

Mr Navalny was detained earlier this month for alleged parole violation, which he claims are trumped up.

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He was arrested after flying back to Moscow from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning last August.

Following his arrest thousands of people have taken part in unauthorised protests across Russia to demand his release, with more planned.

The authorities have said the demonstrations are illegal and have vowed to break them up.

Mr Rotenberg was among the Russian officials and business executives blacklisted by the US and other western countries in the aftermath of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

Analysis: Putin’s old pals rally round in times of need

By Diana Magnay, Moscow correspondent

There has been a concerted effort to defuse Alexei Navalny’s “Putin’s Palace” investigation ahead of another round of protests this weekend.

First tours of the property to pro-Kremlin media, billed as scoops, showing it to be very much a construction site and now Arkady Rotenberg’s claim of ownership.

Little could be more emblematic of the way President Vladimir Putin’s circle of old pals rally round in times of need.

The entire premise of the investigation by the jailed anti-corruption campaigner and Kremlin critic is to show how Mr Putin’s wealth is essentially gratitude cash paid into complex financial structures in lieu of generous state contracts by the friends and allies from days of old.

Mr Rotenberg is famously the Russian leader’s childhood judo sparring partner.

In 2015 he was dubbed by Russian Forbes “the king of state orders”.

His company was responsible for building the bridge to Crimea, following its illegal annexation by Russia – the prestige construction project of the past decade.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and businessman Arkady Rotenberg (L) visits the site of the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait in Kerch, Crimea,
Image: Vladimir Putin (centre) and Arkady Rotenberg (left) visit the construction of the bridge to Crimea

Now it seems the grandiose property near the Black Sea resort of Gelendzhik, which Mr Putin insists has nothing to do with him, represents a new foray for Mr Rotenberg into luxury hotels.

With a £1bn pound price tag it’s expensive, even for him.

The fact that it is still under construction does not contradict Mr Navalny’s investigation which says that furnishings were torn out and building restarted because of mould and design flaws almost a decade ago.

But the assurances on state TV that this palace is in fact destined to be a hotel, and belongs to one of the few men in Russia who can afford it, is designed to calm the suspicions of millions, who might feel that their president is enriching himself at their expense.

Such is the power of state propaganda that those who watch – an older demographic but still very much the majority – will likely end up believing it.

 Sky News

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