A childhood friend of President Vladimir Putin and one of Russia's wealthiest oligarchs has said in an interview that he owns the lavish Black Sea mansion spotlighted in a recent anti-corruption video describing it as "a palace for Putin."
Arkady Rotenberg, who co-owns a sprawling infrastructure-construction company with his brother and has been under Western sanctions for the past five years, made the claim in an interview published on the Telegram channel Mash on January 30.
"Now it will no longer be a secret, I am the beneficiary [owner]," Rotenberg said. "It was quite a complex property. There were many creditors, [and] I managed to become the beneficiary. This is a godsend. The place is gorgeous."
He said he acquired it "several years ago," without offering specifics. Rotenberg did not appear to provide any evidence of ownership.
Rotenberg said he has plans to turn it into an apartment-hotel facility because there is "quite a large number of rooms."
Mash's editor, Maksim Iksanov, had posted a six-minute video the day before in which he appears on the sprawling property, which overlooks the exclusive Gelendzhik Bay region of the Black Sea from Cape Idokopas.
It is not clear how Iksanov got there or who he was with.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation of jailed Putin critic Aleksei Navalny issued a new investigation on January 19 that shone a spotlight on the mansion as allegedly built for Putin.
One day earlier, Navalny had been ordered to remain in custody for 30 days pending trial following his dramatic return to Russia from Germany, where he went for medical care after a nearly fatal poisoning in Russia with a toxin from the Novichok family of Soviet-era nerve agents.
The investigation -- A Palace for Putin -- alleges the luxurious estate cost at least 100 billion rubles ($1.35 billion).
The report says the site includes a church, a 2,500-square-meter greenhouse, an amphitheater, several residential buildings, and a “special tunnel” that leads to the shore.
The palace itself is 17,691 square meters and is said to include a home theater, a lobby with a bar, a hookah bar, a casino and a hall with slot machines, and a swimming pool.
Putin has said the property does not belong to him or his family.
Ivan Zhdanov of the Anti-Corruption Foundation said on January 28 that the group's video with images and apparent design plans of the lavish property had been viewed by more than 100 million people.
The video alleges that Putin's closest friends participated in the mansion's construction, and that the Federal Security Service (FSB) is involved in its protection.
Documents leaked last year from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to BuzzFeed showed that Rotenberg had moved millions of dollars through one of Europe’s largest banks after U.S. and EU sanctions were imposed on him in 2014.
Rotenberg is among the oligarchs mentioned by Navalny in November when he urged the European Union to target the "bunch of criminals" surrounding Putin with sanctions.
"I understood that this is a rather scandalous and difficult building, but look, mark my word, it will take one and a half or two years, and I will invite you, and you will look at this beauty that will be there," Rotenberg told Mash.
He accused media of publishing "innuendo."
The so-called Putin Palace was built between 2005 and 2010.
In 2010, Russian businessman Sergei Kolesnikov fled Russia after publishing an open letter to then-President Dmitry Medvedev revealing the construction of the lavish Black Sea palace commissioned by Putin and funded with a billion dollars in illegally diverted funds.
The Navalny group's investigation says the estate is now owned by a firm called Binom, and is managed by people allegedly linked to Putin’s nephew Mikhail Shelomov. The real owner of the property, however, the investigation claims, is Putin himself.