Publicly, Russian President Vladimir Putin has an aversion to gambling. But according to leaked images allegedly depicting the president's palace on the Black Sea, his personal feelings may be quite different.
The images are part of an investigation published Tuesday on YouTube and on the Russian opposition leader's blog Alexei Navalny. They seem to show that the $1 billion luxury palace includes a casino, a strip club and a game room with slot machines and arcade machines.
According to Navalny, a Kremlin critic, the palace was paid for with funds stolen from the Russian state by Putin's inner circle. In his two-hour YouTube video, which was viewed 3 million times within two hours of publication, Navalny called it "the biggest bribe in the world.
The anti-corruption activist was arrested on his return to Russia from Germany last weekend. Navalny accuses Putin of ordering the nerve agent Novichok to poison him in August, an attack he barely survived.
On Monday, a Moscow judge sentenced Navalny to a 30-day jail term for violating the terms of his parole for embezzlement, which could now lead to years in prison. Navalny says the charges are trumped up and politically motivated.
In 2009, as part of his "crackdown on corruption," Putin promptly shut down all casinos, card clubs and slot machines in Russian cities, declaring gambling a "public disaster."
He then pressured lawmakers to pass legislation to banish all gambling establishments to four remote economic zones.
At the same time, huge sums of money were being used to build the Black Sea Palace, according to an open letter in 2010 to then-President Dmitry Medvedev from exposing businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who now lives in exile.
According to the letter, this was private investment money intended to fund health care contracts and other projects.
Navalny's images show an ornate casino room decorated with board games. The mansion also has a theater and an underground ice rink, and there are vineyards and even a church on the grounds.
"There are impregnable fences, its own port, its own guards, its own church, its own permit system, a no-fly zone and even its own border checkpoint. It's a completely separate state within Russia," Navalny says in his video, which was recorded before his arrest and has since been published.
"This is the most secret and guarded facility in Russia," he adds. "It's not a country house or a residence - it's a whole city, or rather a kingdom."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state news agency on Tuesday RIA Novosti, that all of Navalny's claims are untrue.
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