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Russian opposition: Putin’s lifestyle costs billions

- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin is spending billions of taxpayers' rubles on 20 luxurious residences, 43 jets and four yachts, a top opposition leader claimed Tuesday.

All heads of state use government property and funds for presentation purposes, but Boris Nemtsov says Mr. Putin's lifestyle is far more lavish than his Western counterparts.

In the report released Tuesday, Mr. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, estimated that the maintenance of Mr. Putin's residences, jets and cars alone costs $2.5 billion a year.

"Putin has been mistaking government property for his own for a long time," Mr. Nemtsov said. "This is an insolent, cynical and luxurious lifestyle at taxpayers' expense."

Mr. Putin's press service was not immediately available for comment Tuesday, but his spokesman had earlier words on the report.

"All of this is government property, and Putin uses it all legally as an elected president," Mr. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the RBK daily on Monday after parts of the report had appeared online.

The report — titled "The Life of a Galley Slave" after an epithet Mr. Putin used in 2008 to describe the hardships of his first two presidencies — is based largely on news reports. It includes numerous photographs, including of Mr. Putin's collection of exquisite wristwatches worth about $700,000.

Mr. Putin returned to the Kremlin in May for a third term after four years sitting out as prime minister because of constitutional limits.

Opposition members and a handful of Russia's independent publications long have claimed that Mr. Putin had more than a dozen luxurious residencies built or renovated for him throughout Russia — from an imperial palace in his native St. Petersburg to resorts on the Black Sea to hunting grounds in national parks.

They also accused him of appointing his childhood friends, former classmates and KGB colleagues to key government jobs or allowing their businesses to thrive on oil and gas exports or hefty government contracts.

Mr. Nemtsov said his report will be distributed free of charge or online because he could not find a Russian publisher.

Despite a wave of massive protests this winter that followed Russia's fraud-tainted parliamentary and presidential votes, Mr. Putin remains popular among average Russians, largely thanks to government-controlled television networks that critics compare to Soviet propaganda.

Mr. Nemtsov, who heads the People's Freedom Party, already has authored another report on the unprecedented rise of corruption among government officials since Mr. Putin first was elected in 2000.

Graft also has become more institutionalized under Mr. Putin. Bosses tend not to punish their employees for taking bribes, but rather demand a share. Observers say the Kremlin has tolerated the wrongdoing because it's the main source of income for millions of bureaucrats whose support is crucial to Mr. Putin.

Reflecting that, Transparency International's corruption perception index has ranked Russia 143rd out of 183 countries.

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