SOCHI, Russia – An interactive website launched Monday by anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny paints a vivid picture of the suspected cost overruns and conflicts of interest at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Russia has spent about $51 billion to deliver the Sochi Olympics, which run Feb. 7-23, making them the most expensive games ever, even though as a winter event it hosts many fewer athletes than do Summer Games.
Navalny claims that Russia spent twice as much as necessary to build at least 10 of the Olympic venues – including the Bolshoi Ice Palace, the Fisht Stadium for the opening/closing ceremonies and the speed-skating arena.
Allegations of corruption have dogged preparations for the Sochi Games for years, as reported by the Associated Press and others. Navalny’s new website – Sochi.FBK.info – combines data gathered during his own investigations along with media reports and other activists’ analysis.
The website makes a wide range of data accessible in English and Russian.
“Athletes are not the only people who compete in Sochi,” Navalny, who finished a strong second in Moscow’s mayoral election last year, wrote on the website. “Officials and businessmen also took part in the games and turned them into a source of income.”
President Vladimir Putin has rejected claims about rampant corruption in Sochi, saying the inflated prices were due to the honest mistakes of investors who underestimated the costs.
“If anybody has got this information, please show this to us,” Putin said in a recent interview. “But so far we haven’t seen anything except speculation.”
A 2012 report by the government’s Audit Chamber found about 15 billion rubles (about $500 million) in “unreasonable” cost overruns in the preparations for the Sochi Olympics.
Auditors found that the work of some staff members at Olympstroi, the state company in charge of Sochi construction, between 2008 and 2010 was “conducive to incurring unreasonable cost overruns.” At least three criminal investigations against Olympstroi employees have been opened, but none has reached court. Olympstroi has since changed its management.
The Sochi Organizing Committee would not comment Monday on Navalny’s new website.
One of the key beneficiaries of lucrative Olympic contracts was Putin’s childhood friend Arkady Rotenberg. Through a majority-owned subsidiary, Rotenberg holds nearly 39 percent of the Mostotrest company, which amassed a dozen Olympics-related state contracts to build nearly all of the highways in the area.
Mostotrest’s contracts in Sochi amounted to $3.1 billion, including a $1.6 billion bypass for Sochi, as well as tunnels, bridges and railroads, the company confirmed to the AP.