Russian billionaire Arkady Rothenberg has said he owns a luxury mansion on the Black Sea, not Vladimir Putin, as critics of the Russian president have claimed.
A video report on the vast palace “described as mythical,” broadcast by Alexei Navalny, an opponent of the Kremlin, has spread across Russia and is now seen more than 100 million times.
Days ago, the Russian president denied reports that he owns the resort.
Rottenberg, a billionaire with close ties to Putin, announced Saturday that he was his owner.
This came in an interview published on the pro-Kremlin Mash Telegram channel, before it was confirmed to the Interfax news agency.
“I managed to close a deal with the creditors a few years ago, and I became a beneficiary of this site for several years,” Rotenberg’s press office quoted him as saying.
He said the property would be completed “in two years” and was expected to become a residential hotel.
This claim comes as the crackdown on opposition figures intensifies across Russia.
Why was the palace in the news?
Image Released, YouTube/Alexei Navalny
Controversy over the palace spread after the documentary was released by imprisoned opposition team Alexei Navalny earlier this month.
The investigation claimed that the drug cost about $ 1.37 billion to construct and was paid for as “the largest bribe in history.”
BBC reporter Tim Weill wrote about the mysterious mansion in 2012, citing a former Putin business partner who claimed that the palace was built to his specifications for his personal use. But a spokesman for Putin denied the allegations at the time.
Earlier this week, the Russian president directly denied that he or his family owned it and described the video about it as “boring”.
Allegations about the palace have spread on Russian social media, including the video platform TikTok. The corruption allegations helped spur nationwide protests last weekend in support of Navalny, the largest protests against President Putin in years.
More than 4,000 people were arrested as large crowds descended into cities across Russia to demand Navalny’s release.
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner, was arrested immediately after returning to Russia on a flight from Germany, where he was being treated for an attempt to kill him with a nerve agent last year.
The harsh police handling of the protesters and Navalny’s continued detention sparked intense international criticism.
Despite this, the crackdown appears to be escalating.
Several close associates of Navalny have been arrested since last week, and others, including his brother and Busi Reut team activist Maria Alyokhina, have been placed under house arrest.
Sergey Smirnov, the editor-in-chief of a Russian human rights website, was arrested in front of his home on Saturday. Other journalists denounced the news of his arrest, apparently due to allegations that he participated in last week’s protests.
More demonstrations are expected on Sunday despite fresh police warnings against the gathering.
Officials said public transport routes and pedestrian traffic would be limited across Moscow to try to curb the protests.
Who is Arkady RoweBeepingN?
Rothenberg is a prominent figure in Russia as the owner of huge construction companies that build infrastructure such as bridges and gas pipelines. He is known to be close to Putin as a childhood friend and as a judo partner.
Rothenberg has been subject to US sanctions since 2014, when officials described him as a member of “the inner circle of the Russian leadership” which they claimed provided “support for Putin’s small projects.”