MOSCOW (Reuters) - A feature-length video into an opulent palace jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny alleges is owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin has gone viral online, garnering over 25 million views on YouTube in 24 hours.
The Kremlin on Wednesday denied that Putin owned the palace, called the video an information attack on the president and suggested what it described as a “pseudo-investigation” was a scam designed to con gullible Russians into donating to Navalny’s organisation.
The video, which adds new details to allegations which have existed for more than a decade, showed the palace contained a casino and an underground ice rink, and set out a paper trail which it said showed the Russian leader was the ultimate owner despite efforts to disguise that.
Reuters could not independently verify the new details.
Navalny, Putin’s most prominent critic, was jailed at the weekend after flying back to Russia for the first time since being poisoned by a military grade nerve agent. He accuses Putin of ordering his murder, something the Kremlin denies.
His supporters have called for nationwide protests on Saturday. So far, 7,100 people have expressed their intention to attend in Moscow on a Russian social media account page and 3,400 on a Facebook page for the event.
Here are some facts, verified by Reuters, about the palace:
- Reuters reported in 2014 here that the palace in southern Russia had been partly funded by taxpayer money from a $1 billion hospital project. A spokesman for Putin at the time did not respond to questions about Reuters' findings.
- Two wealthy associates of Putin overcharged Russian hospitals for medical equipment and funnelled at least $50 million of the proceeds to a company that then helped construct the luxury property.
- In 2010, Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov wrote an open letter to then-President Dmitry Medvedev claiming that a long-standing Putin associate was building a luxury estate for Putin by the Black Sea.
The Kremlin has dismissed Kolesnikov as an aggrieved man, saying he left Russia because of business disputes.
- The palace is not far from the Black Sea coast of southern Russia and is an imposing property, built in neo-classical style with formal gardens. The sprawling estate, near the resort of Gelendzhik, includes a theatre and helicopter landing pad.
- A group of journalists and activists who tried to visit the estate in February, 2011, said it was being protected by the Federal Guard Service, a government agency whose role is to provide security for high-ranking officials.
The Kremlin made no comment at the time. Two months later Vladimir Kozhin, head of the Kremlin’s Department of Presidential Affairs, said in an interview with Kommersant newspaper that his department had been involved in the initial phase of the Black Sea estate years earlier, but only as part of a project to encourage investors into real estate developments.
- A Russian billionaire announced in 2011 that he had bought the unfinished estate from a Putin associate for an undisclosed sum. He said at the time that he viewed the property as an investment project and would rent parts of it out.
Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mike Collett-White
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