The Kremlin has granted Russian citizenship to an Italian architect linked to a billion-dollar project in southern Russia widely referred to as "Putin's palace.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded citizenship to Italian architect Lanfranco Cirillo in an August 16 decree published three days later on the Russian government’s website.
Cirillo helped build the lavish estate on Russia’s Black Sea coast that a Russian businessman claims was built specifically for Putin, according to a Reuters investigation in May.
The Kremlin denies that the Russian president is linked to the property, which reportedly features gardens, a private theater, and three landing pads for helicopters.
Cirillo owned the Washington-based firm Medea Investment, which received at least $48 million for supplying building materials for the property, according to Reuters.
He confirmed his role in the project and said a Russian company had "assigned me the work,” Reuters reported. The company identified by Cirillo denied having worked on the project but said that Cirillo operated a joint venture with them "many years ago,” according to the report.
Medea Investment has since had its status as a limited liability company revoked, according to District of Columbia records. Its last listed address is with a corporate services firm called National Registered Agents, Inc. The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Medea Investment’s status.
The liberally-minded Russian magazine "The New Times" also published a 2012 investigation into Cirillo’s links to the project, claiming that the architect had previously complained about not having a Russian passport.
The magazine published a transcript of what it said was a 2009 conversation about the project between Cirillo, a Federal Security Service official named Oleg Kuznetsov, a Putin associate named Nikolai Shamalov, and Dmitry Gorelov, a former major shareholder in Bank Rossiya, which has since been hit with U.S. sanctions.
Cirillo operated an architectural firm called “Masterskaja” that employed 120 people and designed expensive homes for Russian clients, according to “The New Times” report.
Palace For ‘Personal Use’
Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov, who said he worked on the project until 2009 and who has since has fled Russia for Estonia, published an open letter to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 asking him to investigate the project.
Kolesnikov said in the letter that the estate was built to be used by Putin, who at the time served as Russia’s prime minister.
"A palace is being built on the Black Sea coast for the personal use of the Russian prime minister," Kolesnikov wrote. "As things stand, the cost of the palace is $1 billion. The funds were mostly raised through a combination of corruption, bribery and theft."
Russia’s constitution allows the president to “resolve issues of citizenship of the Russian Federation and of granting political asylum."
In January 2013, Putin famously ordered the Federal Migration Service to issue a Russian passport to renowned French actor Gerard Depardieu, who had complained about high tax rates in France.
Less than two days later, a smiling Putin presented the document to the actor during a meeting in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.