RICHARD KAY: Putin apos;s Six-deck Superyacht Groans With Obscene Luxury
To those who recall the modest but elegant dimensions of the Royal Yacht Britannia, it is nothing less than an aberration, a monstrous floating palace built not for a queen but to one man's towering vanity.
That such a ship, where every conceivable surface is of gold or inlaid marble, should be given the name of one of the most gentle and noble figures in literature only adds to the sense of outrage.
For this is the Scheherazade, reputedly Vladimir 's £500 million superyacht where each of its six decks groans with obscene luxury and hideous excess.
There is, however, some grim satisfaction that as his guns continue to pulverise the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and rain death on defenceless citizens across Ukraine, this monument to vulgarity — where even the lavatory paper is dispensed via tasteless golden holders — is, for now at least, trapped behind the masts of a forest of lesser craft and unable to put to sea.
This is the Scheherazade, reputedly Vladimir Putin 's £500 million superyacht where each of its six decks groans with obscene luxury and hideous excess
The superyacht boasts twin helipads, capable of landing Russian attack helicopters, immaculate teak decks and a highly sophisticated communication and defence system with the ability to shoot drones out of the sky
The yacht has room for 18 guests in nine luxury cabins in addition to a crew of 40, residing in 20 cabins and has a royal suite, a swimming pool, a spa and a beauty salon
Scheherazade (seen in drydock), is one of the largest and most expensive superyachts in the world
When thousands are dying at his hands, it seems dishonourable to celebrate the impounding in an Italian dry dock of a mere boat.
But then ownership of possessions such as Scheherazade are how Putin, like some latter-day absolute monarch, demonstrates power.
In a country where the average Russian's annual salary is £5,000, the riches lavished on the yacht are almost beyond comprehension.
Outside are twin helipads, capable of landing Russian attack helicopters, immaculate teak decks and a highly sophisticated communication and defence system with the ability to shoot drones out of the sky.
But it is inside that the sheer opulence begins.
In a country where the average Russian's annual salary is £5,000, the riches lavished on the yacht are almost beyond comprehension
There is a self-levelling pool table, a spa with a cryotherapy chamber and a swimming pool that can transform into a dance floor.
There is an aquarium, theatre, ballroom, gym and a Jacuzzi. And for sheer chutzpah, a self-playing grand piano that, allegedly, repeats a song titled Vladimir Putin Is A Fine Fellow.
Below decks is an underground hangar big enough to hold a helicopter, six jet skis, five tenders and eight Seabobs.
Gold fittings and bling are everywhere, from the bathroom taps to the rivets and screws that hold a 4.5-metre-wide television to the wall of one stateroom.
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Rumours of Putin's ownership of the vessel have circulated since its construction. But his ownership was not investigated until supporters of jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny revealed that it was crewed, almost exclusively, by members of Russia's elite secret service, the FSO.
That Putin should be the beneficial owner of a billionaire's plaything is, of course, not the only mystery.
After all, he arrived back in his native Russia in 1989 following the fall of the Berlin Wall, as impecunious as he was disillusioned by the collapse of communism.
Married with two daughters under five, he had been based in the KGB's office in Dresden in East Germany.
His possessions included a clapped out Lada car and a 20-year-old washing machine.
Yet a decade later he was a multi-millionaire and, within 20 years, had amassed a fortune of such gargantuan proportions he was said by some distance to be the world's richest man.
Today, his possessions — along with at least two yachts — include a palace of breathtaking lavishness on Russia's Black Sea coast, and an aircraft upholstered not by a furniture-maker but by a jeweller.
Among a secret portfolio of assets are said to be luxury homes for his mistresses and a collection of priceless wrist watches — his favourites being a £70,000 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar and a £15,000 Breguet Marine.
Together: Putin and his alleged lover Alina Kabaeva at an event in the Kremlin (file photo)
This combination of greed and acquisitiveness has marched in lockstep with a vaulting ambition to restore to Russia the influence and empire of its Soviet Union-era heyday.
However, Putin's dream of expansion of Russia's borders through his brutal invasion of Ukraine now threatens the very existence of the one thing he prizes above all others — the prosperity he has accumulated, much of it plundered from the very people he professes to serve.
He is believed to have stashed millions of his personal wealth in London, and a new so-called kleptocracy unit spearheaded by the National Crime Agency is set to launch an investigation. Anyone who is holding property or assets on Putin's behalf will be targeted and could face sanctions.
But layers of secrecy around the Russian president's holdings will make it extremely difficult for investigators to link any assets to him.
Calculating the worth of the one-time penniless KGB operative has been one of the conundrums of the past two decades.
How could a man who likes to describe himself as a mere ‘galley slave', a ‘humble servant' of the people with a state salary of just $140,000 (£104,000), afford to live a life full of such unimaginable excess? This, remember, is a man who boasts the most modest of declared assets — two small apartments, a couple of Russian-built cars and a 1,500 sq metre plot of land.
Yet according to Bill Browder, the U.S.-born hedge fund manager who has exposed much of the corruption in Putin's Russia, this is the same man who has accumulated a £160 billion fortune.
So what are his most visible assets?
First, his Black Sea lair, an 18,000 sq metre Italianate mansion within an estate that is 39 times the size of the principality of Monaco. It includes vineyards, an underground ice hockey rink and a lap-dancing studio.
Today, his possessions — along with at least two yachts — include a palace of breathtaking lavishness on Russia's Black Sea coast
It cost £1 billion to construct and images posted online by his critics show interiors of gold, marble and bespoke furniture of intricate detail, including a £200,000 leather sofa.
The ground floor accommodates an electric toy car racing track, theatre, casino and ‘aqua disco'. A wine-tasting room has a huge picture window cut into the cliff below the palace.
A lavatory brush imported from Italy for Putin's private bathroom is said to have cost almost £700.
Photographs show canopied four-poster beds adorned with plump cushions, chandeliers and a swimming pool decorated with statues of Greek gods.
In all, the style is said to be reminiscent of Louis XIV, France's so-called Sun King who famously lost touch with reality.
There is a no-fly zone overhead and a one-kilometre exclusion zone out to sea.
Between the house and the perimeter are other properties such as a dacha, vineyard and a Byzantine-style church imported from Greece and painstakingly reassembled.
The Kremlin, of course, denies that Putin owns any palaces.
However, a former business associate, who collaborated on the project, has said publicly that the funds for the construction were raised by a combination of ‘corruption, bribery and theft'.
Like most things that have fallen into Putin's ample lap, it didn't cost him a single rouble.
According to his biographer Mark Galeotti, funding came via a Kremlin decree for ‘health services' in that part of southern Russia.
While some money may have been spent on hospitals and the like, much was skimmed off to pay for the extraordinary presidential hideaway — which his enemies say is just one of up to 20 homes Putin has access to.
Other presidential assets are said to include 15 helicopters, an Airbus, two Dassault Falcon jets and an Ilyushin airliner with a £13 million neoclassical cabin with its bejewelled trimmings and a bathroom said to have cost £47,000.
Then there is Graceful, a £73 million, 270 ft sister ship to Scheherazade.
A few weeks ago, its crew suddenly set sail from a boatyard in Germany where it had been undergoing modifications — a move no doubt to avoid probable economic sanctions against Russia.
A smaller, older vessel, the Graceful (seen leaving Hamburg last month), has long been suspected of belonging to Putin
The Graceful, the £73 million, 270 ft sister ship to Scheherazade left port in Germany on February 7 (above), about two weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and is currently docked at Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, safely out of the reach of Western sanctions
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It is surely a great irony that Putin's road to riches began as a result of the dismantling of the Soviet empire that he so lamented. As deputy mayor in his home town of St Petersburg, following his return from East Germany, he was in a key position to line his own pockets from the embezzlement of state assets as communism collapsed.
He and a cabal of cronies established a slush fund in those Klondike-style 1990s which, according to Professor Galeotti, is still going strong.
For much of that decade, Putin was in charge of signing off business contracts. One of his assistants was Alexey Miller, the long-time head of Gazprom, the energy conglomerate and Russia's biggest company.
This army of childhood friends, family and other contacts are known as ‘The Wallets' because they literally hold Putin's money.
They include an impoverished former cellist, Sergei Roldugin, who was named in the Panama Papers — the 2016 leak of private legal and financial documents of offshore entities — as possessing a network of companies with up to $2 billion (£1.4 billion) in cashflows and $100 million (£70 billion) in assets.
He has the nickname of ‘Putin's No 1 Wallet'.
While kickbacks and favours for government contracts — the so-called ‘mafia model' — were seen as central to Putin's money-making for himself, so, too, was a saga involving oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Thanks to his Yukos oil business, the tycoon was Russia's richest man in 2003. But falling out of favour, he was jailed for fraud and tax evasion, which he denied. His companies were distributed among Putin loyalists and their wealth siphoned off.
There is no doubt that Putin was behind Khodorkovsky's arrest but the question remains: how much of the business did he take for himself?
Putin's former judo sparring partner, Arkady Rotenberg, is another who has grown exceedingly rich after receiving billions of dollars in state contracts ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia.
According to Bill Browder, the public money that ‘hasn't been spent on schools, and roads and hospitals .
. . is in property, Swiss bank accounts, shares, hedge funds, managed for Putin and his cronies'.
Investigative journalist Catherine Belton, whose book Putin's People revealed how the president and his gang seized control of private companies and siphoned billions from the Russian economy, puts it simply: ‘He can access the wealth of the entire country.'
Putin's former judo sparring partner, Arkady Rotenberg (both pictured in 2019), is another who has grown exceedingly rich after receiving billions of dollars in state contracts ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia
According to that scenario, Russia's assets are Putin's assets.
He doesn't actually need personal wealth.
His complaint about unpatriotic tycoons who hide their money offshore is bizarre — his youngest officially recognised daughter Katerina Tikhonova, 35, owns a villa in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.
And in the past he has been only too happy for his chums to enrich themselves in a similar manner.
Many of his henchmen have taken their loot to Monaco, where benign tax laws — and the warm climate — have long made it a favourite destination for Putin's friends.
‘It has become Moscow on Sea,' says local lawyer Dominique Anastasi.
‘Nobody asks where your money comes from. In the event you loved this short article and you would like to receive more info relating to คาสิโนออนไลน์ generously visit our web-site. There's no culture of checking. You don't make a tax declaration.'
One arrival in the tax-free principality is of particular significance. Late last year, Svetlana Krivonogikh was identified as the owner of a fourth-floor flat overlooking Monaco's marina with a roof garden, two parking spaces and the use of a pool.
What made the purchase all the more remarkable was that Svetlana had been brought up dirt-poor in a crumbling St Petersburg apartment block where five families shared a kitchen and bathroom.
She had earned her living as a cleaner in a local store — but, around the turn of the millennium, her life changed.
In the space of a few years, she became extremely wealthy. She acquired a flat in a prestigious compound in her home city, properties in Moscow, a yacht and other assets, including shares in a bank and a ski resort.
All in, she was said to be worth an estimated £75 million. The reason? She had met a benefactor — Vladimir Putin. Putin's arch critic Navalny has said: ‘There are 20 million beggars in this country and he buys a yacht for his mistress.'
Ex-mistress might be more accurate.
He is widely reported to be dating former Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva.
Currently docked for repairs at the Italian Sea Group shipyard in Marina di Carrara, Italy, the Scheherazade is protected by measures that are extreme even by the ultra-private standards of the superyacht world
Putin is alleged to have shared a daughter with Svetlana, who was rumoured to have attended a British public school.
Thanks to the West's effective sanctions, authorities have begun stripping away at the phoney shell companies and secretive offshore accounts that shield Russian wealth — but there is one big question. Can they seize the ultimate prize, Putin's own vast treasure?
Because it is only then that his grip on power may begin to loosen. Impounding his gold-plated yacht is just the start.