RUSSIA'S Vladimir Putin has had a $1bn (€700m) Italianate palace built for himself near a Black Sea resort with the proceeds of "corruption, bribery and theft", a Russian businessman has alleged.
The claim, in a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, was reinforced yesterday after the 'Novaya Gazeta' newspaper obtained what it said was an authenticated copy of the original contract for the palace, signed in 2005 by Vladimir Kozhin, the Russian presidential property manager.
Mr Putin, now prime minister, was president at the time.
Set in 74 hectares near the coast with its own vineyard, the palace is reported to have its own helipad. It also features an indoor cinema, a summer amphitheatre, a casino, swimming pools and a gym.
Sergei Kolesnikov, the businessman who claims the palace was Mr Putin's, has likened the structure to one built for Russia's tsars outside St Petersburg.
He said that Mr Putin had personally approved the design and materials and he called on Mr Medvedev to investigate.
"A palace is being built on the Black Sea coast for the personal use of the Russian prime minister," Mr Kolesnikov wrote in his original letter.
"As things stand, the cost of the palace is $1bn. The funds were mostly raised through a combination of corruption, bribery and theft," he said.
It was in Mr Medvedev's powers, he added, to show ordinary Russians that everyone was equal before the law, including Mr Putin. Mr Putin's spokesman has dismissed the allegation out of hand, as has Mr Kozhin. Mr Medvedev has not responded to the allegations either.
But Mr Kolesnikov, who said he was involved in the project until 2009 -- when he was removed for raising concerns about corruption -- is sticking to his story and pictures have appeared on a Russian whistle-blowing website.
Mr Putin may contest a presidential election due next year. Supporters believe the claim about the palace may be part of a dirty tricks campaign against him. (© Daily Telegraph, London)