A pagoda-like mansion linked to Russia’s defense minister. A multimillion-dollar Moscow apartment owned by a deputy prime minister. A central Moscow apartment tied to a businessman alleged to be President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.
These were just some of the eyebrow-raising findings unearthed by anticorruption activists from Rosreestr, Russia’s federal real-estate database over the past year.
Beginning late last year, however, those listings started disappearing, a trend that activists suggested was tied to their efforts to document the luxurious wealth of well-connected government officials and their relatives.
The disappearing entries coincided with new legislation, pushed by Russia’s main security agency, to restrict third-party access to personal information contained in the database.
Now comes the latest discovery by investigators from the Anticorruption Fund, headed by opposition activist and lawyer Aleksei Navalny.
The database administrators have been replacing names of property owners with alphanumeric codes; for example, the sons of Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika. The sons were the focus of a scathing documentary last year, alleging that Artyom Chaika illegally privatized state-owned companies and Igor Chaika got rich off of Russian government contracts.
According to Navalny’s investigators, a 2,000-square-meter house on Moscow’s western outskirts that was registered to Artyom in October is now registered to “Private Individual LSDU3.”
The activists matched up other entries in Roseestr previously assigned to Artyom Chaika -- such as a 205-square-meter garage -- with the same Private Individual LSDU3.
With trademark wry commentary, the searchers also describe how they turned up a similar database entry for a 566-square-meter guest house that had previously been registered to Igor Chaika. The entry now is assigned to Private Individual IFYAU9.
“Who exactly are the Brothers Chaika? State personnel under special protection? Individuals with access to state secrets? Military leaders? Secret agents?” the activists wrote in their blog entry.
“Just a couple of rich yahoos who aren’t even state employees.... Just typical parasites living off of state contracts," they wrote. "But now they are protected by the state just like a great secret."
Navalny’s investigators argued that the move to anonymize or remove the real-estate database violated Russian law, and said they would file suit against Rosreestr.
And in a parting shot, they poked fun at the use of the alphanumeric codes now in use in the database, with a reference to the Star Wars movies’ beloved robot characters: