Putin's childhood friend claims HE is owner of £1bn Black Sea palace

Putin’s judo partner Arkady Rotenberg claims HE is owner of notorious £1bn Black Sea palace after video shared by Alexei Navalny sparked huge protests

  • Statement comes after the Russian President face mockery over the residence
  • Arkady Rotenberg claimed he was converting structure into 16-suite apart-hotel
  • Oligarch said of the Gelendzhik Palace: ‘It won’t be a secret. I am the beneficiary’
  • Intervention follows revelation palace includes 16-storey underground complex 

A leading Russian oligarch has today taken the heat by claiming that he is the owner of a notorious £1billion Black Sea palace, not Vladimir Putin.

The statement from Arkady Rotenberg – Putin’s ex-judo sparring partner and childhood friend – comes after the Russian president faced mockery over the residence decked out with a pole-dancing hookah boudoir, casino and ‘aqua disco’.

The opposition immediately saw Rotenberg’s claim that he was converting the 190,000sq-ft sprawling structure near Gelendzhik, Russia, into an apart-hotel with 16 suites for elite Russians as a bid to take the heat off Putin.

Rotenberg, 69, worth £2.1billion, told Mash Media: ‘This is a stunning place. We would like to build an apart-hotel there, this is why it has so many rooms.’

The statement from Arkady Rotenberg – Putin’s ex-judo sparring partner and childhood friend – comes after the Russian president faced mockery over the residence (pictured above)

The Russian President, pictured right, with businessman and billionaire Rotenberg during a visit to the construction site of the Kerch Strait bridge in Crimea in 2016 (file photo)

He said of the Gelendzhik Palace: ‘It won’t be a secret. I am the beneficiary.

‘It was a rather complicated object, there were many creditors. I managed to become a beneficiary.’

His intervention came amid a new revelation that the high-security palace includes a 16-storey underground complex compared with the lair of a James Bond villain.

One commenter said of Rotenberg’s statement: ‘This is what it means to have good friends.’ 

Another said Rotenberg ‘threw himself straight into the breach’ to diffuse the scandal over ‘Putin’s palace’.

Some questioned why it ‘took him so long to remember he had bought the palace’.

But a mining engineer who worked on the complex overlooking the Black Sea suggested it had indeed been built for the president and there is a ‘whole anthill in the rock under the house’.

The subterranean maze includes a cliff face loggia overlooking the sea and vast wine cellar, says a revealing investigation by media outlet Meduza.

A Kremlin-loyal news outlet released video footage of the 190,000sq-ft sprawling residence on Friday to deny the claims

The footage shows the palace under construction, with workers gutting the interior and scaffolding erected across much of the grounds

Mash chief editor Maxim Iksanov, who was taken on a tour of the grounds, recently said: ‘The location is one slab of concrete’

Construction workers were seen in the video which is looking to refute the claims of Putin’s extravagant wealth and lifestyle

The engineer – named only as Viktor – thought of the palace as a ‘national treasure’ suggesting the 16 underground floors buried in the rock were more ingenious than Dr No’s bunker.

‘It’s not quite like the hideout of the villain from the James Bond films,’ he said.

‘The movie is after all based on the usual and necessary parameters of any underground structure.’

Instead, the palace designs included on the eight subterranean floor ‘a balcony – literally a loggia hanging over the sea’ built into the cliff, from which the owner can enjoy wine tasting from the palace stocks, he said.

At this level, there is a depression in the rock meaning that this lookout point is invisible to either side with a panoramic sea view.

Navalny’s chief investigative aide Maria Pevchikh said they already knew that the palace had to be refurbished

Poor ventilation in the design was causing mould, Navalny’s team claimed, which is why the palace is undergoing major works

Putin’s former businessman friend Mr Kolesnikov insists the funds for the palace were raised by a combination of ‘corruption, bribery and theft’

The revelations came as the Russian authorities had mounted an operation to deny the tsarist-scale pile was Putin’s ahead of a new round of protests on Sunday in support of jailed Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny.

Initial reports said Putin had never been seen to a complex and that it was an ‘apart hotel’ under construction for unidentified rich Russians, which now resembled a building site, said reports on state TV.

Navalny in his report had said the palace was now being renovated with construction work underway, partly due to mould and design flaws.

The state TV and Mash media claims that it was a hotel and denying a no-fly zone were mocked by online commenters.

Opposition figure Ksenia Sobchak – a former presidential candidate and daughter of Putin’s political mentor Anatoly Sobchak – had predicted the hotel claim and said it was intended as a distraction.

She claimed Navalny had scored a significant PR victory over Putin with the palace revelations.

Meanwhile, Viktor suggested the complex was indeed constructed over more than a decade for Russia’s top man.

Navalny, who was arrested on his return to Russia last weekend, has claimed a strip club, casino and a theatre are among a series of luxurious rooms inside the palace and mocked up 3D images using floor plans provided by constructors 

Navalny claimed to be in possession of leaked floor plans of the property on Russia’s southern Black Sea coast which have been used to draw up artists’ impressions of the palace’s interior

Astonishing 3D images of the estate’s interior allege ‘Putin’s palace’ features an arcade room (pictured), a spa and a theatre inside the mansion, along with an underground ice rink and even vineyards in the grounds

Alexei Navalny has claimed a theatre – fitted with red curtains and a golden ceiling – is among a series of luxurious rooms inside the palace

The whistleblower explained: ‘We have the right to know what is being built for our budget money.’

His description of 16 storeys underground matches a Soviet joke about the Lubyanka headquarters of Russian secret services, which is said to guard the palace.

The building in central Moscow was held to be the tallest in the city because of how deep it went below the ground to accommodate cells where Stalin’s foes were shot.

The Gelendzhik palace’s underground structure also leads to a tunnel to the beach, along with ‘technical’ and ‘security’ facilities, said the engineer.

There is also an underground ice hockey rink. Navalny’s original film about the palace has now notched up more than 100million viewers.

Today, opposition figures were detained ahead of demonstrations expected on Sunday across Russia.

Rotenberg is a construction mogul who – with other members of his family – has become rich under Putin’s rule.

He was a key figure in construction of a bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland after Putin used his military to annex the peninsula in 2014.

Rotenberg and brother Boris, 64, are reported to have their own adjoining palaces near Moscow.

Arkady’s spokeswoman today refused to give details on when and how the billionaire acquired the Black Sea estate.

Mash is seen as having ties to the authorities.  

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