Kremlin foes, journalists, and anticorruption activists in recent months have uncovered evidence that entries in the official federal real-estate database have been quietly edited, in some cases obscuring ownership of expensive properties thought to be controlled by members of Russia’s political elite, RFERL reports.
Moreover, the Russian intelligence community is pushing draft legislation that would curb access to personal information in public real-estate records, thus shielding these details from inquisitive journalists and the broader public.
Evidence of the alleged manipulation of property documents has emerged at a time of heightened scrutiny of the wealth of Russia’s ruling class, particularly following the massive dump of incriminating data on offshore holdings contained in what have been dubbed the Panama Papers.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name reportedly does not figure in the documents, they have linked members of his inner circle to billions of dollars’ worth of asset transfers and opaque transactions.
Expensive real estate held by Russian officials and their relatives has become a powerful populist lever in the opposition’s campaign to expose what they call endemic corruption and cronyism under Putin.
But these activists allege that Rosreestr, the federal agency tasked with maintaining Russian real-estate records, is making it more difficult to track the ownership of these properties by illegally tweaking or even deleting information in its database.
“It’s this kind of administrative lawlessness — backdoor dealings,” Ivan Zhdanov, the top lawyer for opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s Anticorruption Fund, told RFE/RL. “It has no basis in law. They’re just finding some bureaucratic means of carrying out their internal orders. They have their own special internal legal system.”
The most recent example, Navalny’s group alleges, involves Kirill Shamalov, a businessman ranked by Forbes as Russia’s youngest billionaire and widely reported to be Putin’s son-in-law.
Navalny’s chief investigator, Georgy Alburov, wrote in an April 26 Facebook post that the owner information in the Rosreestr entry for a central Moscow apartment that Shamalov has listed as his residence was replaced with a bureaucratic code nearly a year ago, though ownership hadn’t changed hands since 2004.
Alburov wrote that “it’s clear that Shamalov has been given government protection” because he is Putin’s son-in-law and the son of the president’s longtime associate, Nikolai Shamalov, who has been slapped with EU sanctions and who Brussels says “benefits from his links with Russian decision-makers.”
Neither Putin nor his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has confirmed or denied that Shamalov is married to the Russian president’s younger daughter.
“However Putin and Peskov try to hush up this unpleasant topic, the special status of this citizen is obvious even from [the Rosreestr] records,” Alburov wrote.