It’s a level of extravagance that would put the czars to shame.
There are bidets which cost $10,800 (£8,800) each and shower heads at $4,600 each. Then there is the floor made of $110,000 Fior di Bosco marble and the indoor pool with a decorative waterfall flowing from the first floor. No expense was spared. And that, according to the leaked emails, is just the “Garden House”.
Six years ago, the Russian television channel Dozhd reported that a building, humbly described by architects as the “fisherman’s hut”, in the heart of the forests of Russia’s northern region of Karelia, was widely qualified by the inhabitants of “Putin’s dacha” or Holiday home.
While UK government analysis suggests that the Russian president has only officially registered a few assets in his name, including a small apartment in St Petersburg, two 1950s Soviet-era cars, a trailer and a small garage, plus a presidential salary of around £110,000 a year, the channel reported that it was where Vladimir Putin had chosen to slip away for a break from the stresses of life in the Kremlin.
There were actually two houses. One with a grass covered roof and a helipad. But otherwise, the resort seemed relatively modest, with the futuristic wood-and-glass fisherman’s shack furnished inside with cream Ikea-style sofas and green bucket chairs. The building’s accompanying grass roof was said to be a nod to the need to stay out of sight of Western spies in the sky.
Now, however, thanks to a leak of thousands of emails sent by two construction companies, obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Russian-language news site Meduza, a slightly bigger picture spectacular emerged from the luxury real estate complex developed around the Cabane du Pêcheur.
Floor plans, blueprints and interior design diagrams reveal that construction of a six-bedroom adjoining garden house began in 2021 and is completely clad in semi-precious stones such as lapis -lazuli, a deep blue gemstone said to have healing properties, and labradorite, a luminous crystal that some swear by for relieving anxiety and stress.
A high-end Russian interior design agency, FullHouseDesign, spearheaded the project, according to documents in the leaked emails. The business owner told OCCRP she had no recollection of any involvement, but disputed the idea that the marble floors were extravagant.
“If you look at our website, there are many projects where we use marble flooring like any other respectable architectural firm would,” she said. The woman declined to comment on construction costs.
There is a second new building on the surrounding land described in the Russian cadastre in 2018 as a “barn”. It is actually, according to the leaks, a modern two-story building comprising of what appears to be a vast entertainment area, with an open dining area of over 200 square meters.
A glass partition separates the large dining room from a professional kitchen equipped with grills, a tandoor oven, a Japanese-style teppan grill and a smoking room.
There is a private brewery equipped with €345,000 (£296,000) Austrian brewing equipment that can produce 47 liters of beer a day and a teahouse overlooking Lake Ladoga on the second floor.
Construction also began last year on a separate two-storey building containing further kitchen facilities and storage space for fish, meat and vegetables. It has four modest bedrooms with rollaway beds that can be used to accommodate staff. There is also a cattle farm nearby, according to land records, where steers are raised to produce Kobe beef, a local source said.
The “barn” has the advantage of two small pools, but for those who are a little more adventurous in their swimming habits, a path leads to a natural waterfall in Lake Ladoga where there is a comfortable gazebo to take shelter under of the sun.
The waterfall was once a popular tourist attraction, but today it is strictly off-limits to the public. General construction work is estimated in a document at 187m rubles (£2.8m).
Putin denies being the real beneficiary of the complex. Security guards patrolling its perimeter fence have been known to sell lake trout to locals when the bosses are away, but offered no comment when asked who they work for. Nothing on paper suggests a direct connection to the president.
But for nearly two decades, Putin has been accused of secretly amassing vast wealth and luxurious assets through powers of attorney, fueled by a series of disclosures in leaks such as the Pandora Diaries about his relatives’ fortunes. .
And there are enough clues to ask questions about this sprawling estate. “The locals serve as guards there only when the site is empty,” said a local fisherman. “When high level guests visit, locals are usually replaced by FSO [federal protection service].”
The fisherman’s hut itself is registered with a company called Prime, which is owned by Support of Entrepreneurial Initiatives, a nonprofit partnership founded by Yury Kovalchuk and his son Boris.
Kovalchuk Sr., who faces Western sanctions, is a close ally of Putin and the largest shareholder in Bank Rossiya, dubbed “Putin’s bank” because of its reputation for doing the Kremlin’s bidding. Bank Rossiya is also subject to US, EU and UK sanctions.
The surrounding land is additionally owned by companies linked to Kovalchuk and a second businessman who has been under US sanctions since 2016.
Representatives of companies owned by Kovalchuk and the second man also appear to be using a common email domain name, LLCInvest.ru, which is hosted by a web provider with close ties to Bank Rossiya. The actual construction of the complex was led by employees of a non-profit organization, Revival of Marine Traditions, where at least one related person also appears to use the domain name LLCInvest.ru.
The Guardian, OCCRP and Meduza revealed this week that LLCInvest’s email address was linked to a host of other luxury properties, yachts and vineyards allegedly made available to Putin. None of the owners or founders of the associated businesses and nonprofit organizations responded to requests for comment. It is unclear as to the purpose of the common email service or the motivation for the apparent cooperation on staffing and logistics issues.
A Kremlin spokesman said: “The President of the Russian Federation is in no way connected or affiliated with the objects and organizations you named.”
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