Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenberg says he owns ‘Putin palace’

Navalny believes that Mr Putin owns the Black Sea palace. PHOTO: NAVALNY.COM

MOSCOW (AFP, REUTERS) - Billionaire and Vladimir Putin ally Arkady Rotenberg on Saturday (Jan 30) said he owns a Black Sea coast property that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says costs over US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) and belongs to the Russian president.

Navalny claims the 17,691 square metre mansion sits on a property 39 times the size of Monaco and features a casino along with a theatre, an underground hockey arena, an aquatic disco and a hookah lounge complete with a pole-dancing stage.

Underscoring the grand price tag, Navalny noted in a two-hour video report that it features Italian-made toilet brushes estimated at 700 euros (S$1,000) apiece.

Navalny's video has garnered over 100 million views on YouTube, helped spur the largest street protests in Russia in years and forced Putin to deny that he or his relatives own the property.

On Saturday, Putin's former judo partner Rotenberg said the property belonged to him.

"I have successfully concluded a deal with some creditors and I became the beneficiary of this site," Russian news agencies quoted Rotenberg as saying.

His media service said the billionaire wanted to turn it into an apartment hotel.

"Everything has been done with great care, efficiently and professionally," he said.

"I am hoping that we will finish work on the hotel in a few years," he said.

Arkady Rotenberg (right), Vladimir Putin's former judo partner, said he bought the palace two years ago. PHOTO: AFP

Rotenberg, who sold his stake in gas pipeline construction firm Stroygazmontazh in 2019 for a sum which RBC business daily put at some 75 billion roubles ($990 million), said he bought the palace two years ago.

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

Russian state television on Friday rejected claims that the property was owned by Putin and dismissed reports that it had an aquatic disco, showing an empty fountain at the purported site.

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But Navalny's allies say work is ongoing to rectify flaws due to "negligence" during initial construction.

Navalny was remanded in custody for 30 days on Jan 18 for parole violations he says were trumped up and could face years in jail. He was arrested after flying back to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning last August.

After Mr Navalny's arrest thousands of people joined unsanctioned protests across Russia last Saturday to demand the Kremlin release Mr Navalny from jail.

His supporters plan to hold further protest rallies across Russia this Sunday.

People take part in an unauthorized protest in support of Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Russia, on Jan 23, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EEE

Authorities have said they are illegal and have vowed to break them up.

Mr Rotenberg was among the Russian officials and business executives blacklisted by the United States and other Western powers in the aftermath of Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

Russian police on Saturday detained Sergey Smirnov, editor-in-chief of independent media outlet Mediazona, in Moscow on suspicion of taking part in last weekend's Moscow protest, Mediazona said on Saturday.

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