The sprawling Italianate palace has breathtaking views of the Black Sea, its own casino, helipad, theatre and even an amphitheatre. And, if claims by businessman Sergei Kolesnikov are to be believed, Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, is the owner of the $1-billion, eight-million-sq.-foot mansion. In December, Kolesnikov, who says he was involved in the estate’s financing, published an open letter linking Putin to the ornate villa in the Krasnodar region. He alleged it was being built “mainly through a combination of corruption, bribery and theft.”
In January, a Russian website posted photos of the elaborate structure. It was quickly blocked. Then on Feb. 14, Novaya Gazeta published what it says are copies of a 2005 investment contract for the estate signed by the deputy of the office for presidential affairs, which would directly link the palace to Putin, who was then president. Russia’s reputation for graft earned it the 154th spot out of 178 nations on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.