Putin’s former judo companion says he owns a palace whose opposition is linked to the Russian chief

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Kremlin critic Navalny leaves Berlin

From Gleb Stolyarov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg said Saturday he owns a huge palace in southern Russia that Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny has linked to President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny and his anti-corruption foundation have released a video claiming the opulent mansion belongs to the Russian leader. The video has been viewed more than 103 million times.

Rotenberg, Putin’s former judo sparring partner who sold his stake in gas pipeline construction company Stroygazmontazh in 2019 for a sum that put the RBC business at around 75 billion rubles ($ 990 million) a day, said he had the Palace bought two years ago.

“Now it will no longer be a secret, I am the beneficiary,” said Rotenberg in a video posted by Mash Channel on Telegram. “There was a pretty complicated facility, there were many creditors, and I managed to become the beneficiary.”

He did not provide any other financial details of the purchase or how it was financed.

Putin has already denied possession of the palace.

Navalny was remanded in custody for 30 days on January 18 for parole violation. He says they have been exposed and could sit in jail for years. He was arrested after flying back to Moscow from Germany, where he recovered from nerve agent poisoning last August.

After Navalny was arrested, thousands of people joined unauthorized protests across Russia last Saturday to demand the Kremlin’s release of Navalny from prison.

Navalny supporters plan to hold more protests across Russia this Sunday. The authorities have said they are illegal and have vowed to break into them.

Rotenberg was among the Russian officials and businessmen blacklisted by the United States and other Western powers after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014.

Russian police arrested Sergey Smirnov, editor-in-chief of the independent media company Mediazona, in Moscow on Saturday on suspicion of participating in the Moscow protest last weekend, Mediazona said on Saturday.

($ 1 = 75,7500 rubles)

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