Despite currently being behind bars, the Kremlin has not succeeded in silencing the Putin critic Alexei Navalny
On his first full day within Moscow’s Matrosskaya-Tishina prison, colleagues of Alexei Navalny have released a large-scale video investigation into the construction and the alleged slush fund behind what has been described as “Putin’s palace”, a £1bn private residence situated on Russia’s Black Sea coast.
Referring to it as “Putin’s biggest secret”, Mr Navalny and his team have revealed new details about the sprawling complex that is located near the resort town of Gelendzhik which has long been rumoured to be belonging to the Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Drone footage over the grounds of the complex, which the team says are 39 times the size of Monaco, reveals an underground ice hockey arena, a 2,500 square metre greenhouse, and an underground tunnel that leads out to the Black Sea.
This comes after the Putin critic and opposition leader in Russia who had been poisoned, Alexei Navalny, has been detained by Russian police following his return to his home country.
Architectural floor plans that had been secured from a contractor shocked at the extent of the luxury of the “palace” reveal a lavish indoor theatre with a fully-fledged casino and even a purple-tinted “hookah bar”.
It is “the most expensive palace in the world”, Mr Navalny says in the narration. “A new Versailles, new Winter Palace.”
Mr Navalny has said that the idea for the investigation, which he presents from Germany, came during his time in intensive care after being poisoned.
In the video, he travels to Dresden in order to trace Vladimir Putin’s path from lowly KGB operative on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain to the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin, showing how the friends he made in the 1990s have remained the principle beneficiaries of his kleptocratic regime to this day.
“Putin’s personal money is kept by those he met 30 years ago,” the investigation says. “In search of sponsors for the most corrupt ruler in the history of Russia, you need to go to his past.”
He referred to the Gelendzhik property as the “biggest bribe in the world” and claims to have uncovered a scheme by which money for its construction is funnelled into offshore accounts by Mr Putin’s cronies as payment for lucrative state contracts he has handed them over the years.
This comes after the Russian opposition leader had been discharged from the hospital after being treated for poisoning by a novichok agent, laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden have all confirmed that he had been poisoned with the same form of nerve agent that was used to target Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in the UK in 2018.
“The standout for me is how bizarre and cuckoo-in the head our president is,” says Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Mr Navalny and executive director of his now disbanded Anti-Corruption Foundation. “Why do you need a billion dollar palace which you would never really use, as president?”
The Kremlin has denied that Mr Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik.
“The message about Putin’s property will reach people in different formats and different channels,” Mr Ashurkov says.
“It’s unlikely that the regime will change tomorrow and we’ll see hundreds of thousands of people on the streets but it’s a campaign of constant pressure and history teaches us that the only constant throughout the decades is change.”