A leading Russian oligarch has today taken the heat by claiming that he is the owner of a notorious £1billion Black Sea palace, not Vladimir Putin.
The statement from Arkady Rotenberg – Putin’s ex-judo sparring partner and childhood friend – comes after the Russian president faced mockery over the residence decked out with a pole-dancing hookah boudoir, casino and ‘aqua disco’.
The opposition immediately saw Rotenberg’s claim that he was converting the 190,000sq-ft sprawling structure near Gelendzhik, Russia, into an apart-hotel with 16 suites for elite Russians as a bid to take the heat off Putin.
Rotenberg, 69, worth £2.1billion, told Mash Media: ‘This is a stunning place. We would like to build an apart-hotel there, this is why it has so many rooms.’
The statement from Arkady Rotenberg – Putin’s ex-judo sparring partner and childhood friend – comes after the Russian president faced mockery over the residence (pictured above)
The Russian President, pictured right, with businessman and billionaire Rotenberg during a visit to the construction site of the Kerch Strait bridge in Crimea in 2016 (file photo)
Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and billionaire Arkady Rotenberg (L) attend judo training at Yug Sport complex February 14, 2019
He said of the Gelendzhik Palace: ‘It won’t be a secret. I am the beneficiary.
‘It was a rather complicated object, there were many creditors. I managed to become a beneficiary.’
His intervention came amid a new revelation that the high-security palace includes a 16-storey underground complex compared with the lair of a James Bond villain.
One commenter said of Rotenberg’s statement: ‘This is what it means to have good friends.’
Another said Rotenberg ‘threw himself straight into the breach’ to diffuse the scandal over ‘Putin’s palace’.
Some questioned why it ‘took him so long to remember he had bought the palace’.
But a mining engineer who worked on the complex overlooking the Black Sea suggested it had indeed been built for the president and there is a ‘whole anthill in the rock under the house’.
The subterranean maze includes a cliff face loggia overlooking the sea and vast wine cellar, says a revealing investigation by media outlet Meduza.
A Kremlin-loyal news outlet released video footage of the 190,000sq-ft sprawling residence on Friday to deny the claims
The footage shows the palace under construction, with workers gutting the interior and scaffolding erected across much of the grounds
Mash chief editor Maxim Iksanov, who was taken on a tour of the grounds, recently said: ‘The location is one slab of concrete’
Construction workers were seen in the video which is looking to refute the claims of Putin’s extravagant wealth and lifestyle
The engineer – named only as Viktor – thought of the palace as a ‘national treasure’ suggesting the 16 underground floors buried in the rock were more ingenious than Dr No’s bunker.
‘It’s not quite like the hideout of the villain from the James Bond films,’ he said.
‘The movie is after all based on the usual and necessary parameters of any underground structure.’
Instead, the palace designs included on the eight subterranean floor ‘a balcony – literally a loggia hanging over the sea’ built into the cliff, from which the owner can enjoy wine tasting from the palace stocks, he said.
At this level, there is a depression in the rock meaning that this lookout point is invisible to either side with a panoramic sea view.
Navalny’s chief investigative aide Maria Pevchikh said they already knew that the palace had to be refurbished
Poor ventilation in the design was causing mould, Navalny’s team claimed, which is why the palace is undergoing major works
Putin’s former businessman friend Mr Kolesnikov insists the funds for the palace were raised by a combination of ‘corruption, bribery and theft’
The revelations came as the Russian authorities had mounted an operation to deny the tsarist-scale pile was Putin’s ahead of a new round of protests on Sunday in support of jailed Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny.
Initial reports said Putin had never been seen to a complex and that it was an ‘apart hotel’ under construction for unidentified rich Russians, which now resembled a building site, said reports on state TV.
Navalny in his report had said the palace was now being renovated with construction work underway, partly due to mould and design flaws.
Navalny, who was arrested on his return to Russia last weekend, has claimed a strip club, casino and a theatre are among a series of luxurious rooms inside the palace and mocked up 3D images using floor plans provided by constructors
Navalny claimed to be in possession of leaked floor plans of the property on Russia’s southern Black Sea coast which have been used to draw up artists’ impressions of the palace’s interior
Astonishing 3D images of the estate’s interior allege ‘Putin’s palace’ features an arcade room (pictured), a spa and a theatre inside the mansion, along with an underground ice rink and even vineyards in the grounds
Alexei Navalny has claimed a theatre – fitted with red curtains and a golden ceiling – is among a series of luxurious rooms inside the palace
The state TV and Mash media claims that it was a hotel and denying a no-fly zone were mocked by online commenters.
Opposition figure Ksenia Sobchak – a former presidential candidate and daughter of Putin’s political mentor Anatoly Sobchak – had predicted the hotel claim and said it was intended as a distraction.
She claimed Navalny had scored a significant PR victory over Putin with the palace revelations.
Pictured: Russian Rosguardia (National Guard) soldiers stand toward the Palace Square a day before of Sunday’s protest in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, January 30
Russian Rosguardia (National Guard) soldiers stand blocking enter to the Palace Square a day before Sunday’s protest in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, January 30
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a TV screen during a live session with the court during a hearing of his appeal in a court in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, January 28
Meanwhile, Viktor suggested the complex was indeed constructed over more than a decade for Russia’s top man.
The whistleblower explained: ‘We have the right to know what is being built for our budget money.’
His description of 16 storeys underground matches a Soviet joke about the Lubyanka headquarters of Russian secret services, which is said to guard the palace.
The revelations came as the Russian authorities had mounted an operation to deny the tsarist-scale pile was Putin’s ahead of a new round of protests on Sunday in support of jailed Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny. Pictured: Protests on January 23 demanding the release of Alexei Navalny
Pictured: Police detain a protester during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in downtown Moscow on January 23
A participant – wearing a headdress similar to the one seen being worn by a man in the Capitol riots in Washington DC on January 6 – shouts during an unauthorised protest rally against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny on January 23
A demonstrator clashes with a police officer during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Pushkin square in Moscow, January 23
Opposition figures were detained ahead of demonstrations expected on Sunday across Russia. Pictured: Police officers detain a man during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow
The building in central Moscow was held to be the tallest in the city because of how deep it went below the ground to accommodate cells where Stalin’s foes were shot.
The Gelendzhik palace’s underground structure also leads to a tunnel to the beach, along with ‘technical’ and ‘security’ facilities, said the engineer.
There is also an underground ice hockey rink. Navalny’s original film about the palace has now notched up more than 100million viewers.
Today, opposition figures were detained ahead of demonstrations expected on Sunday across Russia.
Rotenberg is a construction mogul who – with other members of his family – has become rich under Putin’s rule.
He was a key figure in construction of a bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland after Putin used his military to annex the peninsula in 2014.
Rotenberg and brother Boris, 64, are reported to have their own adjoining palaces near Moscow.
Arkady’s spokeswoman today refused to give details on when and how the billionaire acquired the Black Sea estate.
Mash is seen as having ties to the authorities.
Putin’s friend and judo partner Arkady Rotenberg
Arkady Rotenberg is a close friend and ally of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, and appeared to take the heat off his friend by claiming that he is in fact the owner of a notorious £1billion Black Sea palace.
With his brother Boris Rotenberg, Arkady is the co-owner of Stroygazmontazh (SGM) group, Russia’s largest construction company for gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines.
In 2017, Forbes estimated his fortune at $2.5 billion, but he and his brother are subject to personal sanctions by the United States’ government relating to events during the Ukrainian crisis in 2013 and 2014.
His relationship with Valdimir Putin dates back to 1963 – when Rotenberg was 12 years old – when the pair joined a sambo club (a soviet martial art), and in 1978 Rotenberg became a judo trainer.
Upon Putin’s return to Russia in 1990, the pair trained together several times a week, and Rotenberg secured funding to found Yavara-Neva, a professional judo club.
Pictured: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) decorates businessman Arkady Rotenberg (R) with the Hero of Labour medal during an awards ceremony
The would go on to win nine European Judo Championships and train four Olympic champions, and it was given a new state-funded $180 million facility, including a thousand-seat arena and a yacht club.
Once Putin became president of Russia, he created Rosspirtprom, a state-owned enterprise controlling 30 percent of Russia’s vodka market in 2000, and put Rotenberg in control of the organisation.
Similar favouritism was shown to Rotenberg when Gazprom – the Russian majority state-owned multinational energy corporation – appeared to pay him inflated prices for projects.
When Igor Levitin was the Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation from 20 May 2004 to 2012, in 2010 he ensured that Rotenberg’s firms would construct the toll roads on Russian federal highways.
In 2013, he became chairman of the Enlightenment Publishing House, and amid changes to the industry that meant many of the Publisher’s competitors didn’t meet new evaluations, Enlightenment won about 70% of the contracts for new textbooks in the Russian Federation in 2014.
However, the Rotenberg brothers faced international backlash following the annexation of Crimea, which saw Barack Obama sigh an executive order imposing sanctions on their businesses, as well as on other Putin allies.
Visa and Mastercard stopped servicing Rotenberg’s bank – SMP Bank – and in 2014 Italy seized 30 million euros of his real estate. The U.S added Arkady and Igor Rotenberg on their blacklist of Russian oligarchs, freezing assets forworth $65 million in the same year.
In 2016, he General Court of the European Union confirmed the sanctions against Ukraine and the freezing of Arkady’s funds which had taken effect on 30 July 2014, but limited to the new properties added by the Council of Europe in March 2015.
A number of Rotenberg’s business ventures in recent years have been in response to the sanctions, with a bill being proposed – known as the Rotenberg law – that would allow sanctioned Russians to be compensated by the state. The bill was declined.
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