Amid difficult times for many Russians, a lavish wedding for a judge’s daughter raises eyebrows all the way up to the Kremlin.
Maybe it was the wedding gift the newlyweds allegedly received: a brand-new Bentley. Or the presence of one of Russia’s most famous crooners. Or the reception at the most expensive restaurant in the capital of the Black Sea region of Krasnodar.
Or maybe it was the fact that the rumored $2 million price tag for the wedding of regional judge Yelena Khakhaleva’s daughter seemed way out of line with the jurist’s annual salary of about $44,000.
Whatever the reason, the luxurious party has struck a nerve with Russians at a time when the country’s economy is stagnating, inflation is eroding salaries and pensions, and unhappiness with rampant corruption growing.
According to press reports, the party for Khakhaleva’s daughter Sophia and her now-husband Vadim took place on June 10 at the posh Galich Hall restaurant in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.
It wasn’t clear how many guests were invited, but those who did attend were treated to performances from some of Russia's most famous celebrities and chanteurs.
One was Iosif Kobzon, a legendary Soviet-era singer whose style and image is often likened to Frank Sinatra. Another was Andrei Karaulov, who hosts a well-known TV program called Moment of Truth, and who told the online portal Lenta.ru that he and the other guests were paid 440,000 euros for their appearance. He said the newlyweds received a Bentley automobile as a gift.
News of the party came to light last week when a prominent Moscow-based celebrity lawyer named Sergei Zhorin posted a short video showing some of the party, along with a scathing commentary, on his Instagram account.
From there the video made its way to Russian TV channels and newspapers, sparking an even louder outcry:
Zhorin asserted the wedding must have cost at least $2 million, contrasting that amount with Judge Khakhaleva’s income declaration for 2016 of 2.6 million rubles (around $44,000).
"This is not just a feast in a time of plague. This is spitting in your faces. In our faces!" he wrote.
The father of the bride, Khakhaleva’s former husband Robert, has been just as quick to defend the lavish party.
He told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that he paid for the wedding, and that it cost 5 million rubles ($84,000).
While that’s a fraction of what Zhorin claims, it’s still a sum that exceeds the average Russian’s entire annual salary, according to the State Statistics Service.
The newspaper reported that Robert Khakhalaev runs a successful agribusiness in Krasnodar’s Novopokrovsky district, owning around 7,000 hectares (13,000 acres) and growing various crops and raising livestock.
He also runs a micro-lending business, a taxi operation, and an auto spare parts business.
As for the famous singers? They were all old childhood friends from his days growing up in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Khakhalaev was quoted as saying. The 110,000-ruble ($1,900) wedding dress that he said his daughter wore, he paid for it with his own bank card.
He also rejected talk of a Bentley, but added, "I can give my daughter any kind of expensive car I want and it’s my own personal business. I have official income. I pay taxes on that income. And what I spend on my own children, that’s my own personal business and I’m not going to justify what the wedding cost to anyone."
Kobzon also had a message for those outraged by the party’s cost.
“What business of yours is it?” he said in an interview with the radio station Govorit Moskva (Moscow Talks). "What’s with this rudeness, interfering in the family's business? An idiotic story, idiotic journalists who only know how to seek out all sorts of crap and slime.”
It wasn’t clear if Sophia was employed; her new husband reportedly works in the local division of the Investigative Committee, a law-enforcement agency.
Rumors of the wedding’s excesses have rippled across the country.
Anton Getta, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, said he was sending a request to the Prosecutor-General’s Office to investigate the discrepancy between the wedding’s costs and the judge’s income.
The incident even caught the eye of the Kremlin.
"No question, we, like everyone else, of course, follow different news in the media, in discussions on the Internet etc. and we paid attention to this particular news,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
"But it isn’t the prerogative of the Kremlin to respond to any and all incidents. There are other agencies, which actually are better able to take notice."