2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Corruption and censorship cast shadow over Russia's Games

Special report: Allegations of fraudulent contracts worth billions threaten to derail Putin’s showpiece

The 2014 Winter Olympics are meant to revitalise the city of Sochi, improve Russia’s image abroad, and become the cornerstone of President Vladimir Putin’s legacy.

But as the Olympic torch lights up Moscow on Monday, reports of widespread corruption and workers’ rights violations, as well as controversy over Russia’s crackdown on gay rights, cast a shadow over the Sochi Games.

With an estimated price tag of $51bn (£32bn), February 2014’s Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi will be the most expensive in history, and critics say more than half that money may have gone towards embezzlement and kickbacks.

Today, synchronised swimmer Anastasia Davydova, a five-time Olympic gold medallist, will carry the Olympic flame through Moscow as it begins its 123-day journey through all of Russia’s 83 regions. At the same time, Amnesty International activists around the world will protest recent Russian laws that place strict regulations on demonstrations, require some non-governmental organisations to register as “foreign agents”, and ban “gay propaganda”, a vague term for any behaviour that is seen to promote homosexuality.

“The Olympic flame can cast light on human rights violations that the Russian regime wants to hide with pomp and circumstance,” Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International in Moscow, told The Independent.

It remains unclear how Russian authorities will react to expressions of LGBT solidarity in Sochi, where officials have said the law will be in force. Gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup has said he will wear a rainbow pin during competition, and Moscow-based activists have said they will hold a gay-pride parade in Sochi on the opening day of the Olympics.

Gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup has said he will wear a rainbow pin during competition Gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup has said he will wear a rainbow pin during competition

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported this month that in mass raids beginning in early September, police in Sochi have detained hundreds of migrant workers, many of whom worked on Olympic construction sites, holding them in often inhumane conditions and deporting some of them.

In a February report, Human Rights Watch said it had documented the exploitation of migrant workers on construction sites including the Olympic Village, the main Olympic Stadium and the Central Media Centre. Workers’ wages were withheld, their identification documents confiscated and they were not provided with legally required contracts and work permits.

The Olympic infrastructure has been plagued by poor quality construction and mounting costs. The ski jump had to be rebuilt several times, and its cost skyrocketed from £24.8m to £165m. As a result, one of the six deputy heads of the Russian Olympic Committee, Akhmed Bilalov was fired, and a video of Putin berating him for failures on Olympic projects in February quickly went viral. A criminal case was opened against Mr Bilalov in April for allegedly spending more than £60,000 in company funds on luxury travel as director of a state company building ski resorts in other parts of the North Caucasus. He went to Germany for medical treatment a few days after Mr Putin’s tongue-lashing and has not returned to Russia.

The Olympic flame is lit in Athens before its transfer to the Sochi Games, which has been troubled by claims of corruption and workers’ rights violations The Olympic flame is lit in Athens before its transfer to the Sochi Games, which has been troubled by claims of corruption and workers’ rights violations  

Meanwhile, companies linked to members of Mr Putin’s inner circle appear to have profited handsomely. Notably, firms belonging to Putin’s childhood friend Arkady Rotenberg have won contracts worth $7.4bn, according to Bloomberg.

“According to the worldwide average for price increases, the cost of the Sochi Olympics should be $24bn (double the $12bn announced by Mr Putin). The rest – $26bn – is embezzlement and kickbacks,” wrote opposition figures Leonid Martynyuk and Boris Nemtsov in a May report.

In particular, the pair noted that the infamous road between the coastal and mountain clusters of Olympic venues grew in price from £1.8bn to £5.2bn over the course of construction – more than Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover mission. Russian Railways, which built the road, told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper that the report did not make clear that railroad infrastructure was also part of the road project and that efforts to build the road faster and in a more environmentally-friendly manner raised the cost.

Valery Morozov, the head of Moskonversprom, a company that participated in several Olympic-related construction projects in Sochi, told Novaya Gazeta in 2010 that for a contract to rebuild part of a spa complex where a delegation will stay during the Games, he had to pay kickbacks and buy goods and services at inflated prices from companies linked to officials. Mr Morozov’s company was later accused of tax evasion, and received political asylum in the UK.

In particular, Mr Morozov told Novaya Gazeta that he had to give kickbacks totalling 12 per cent of the contract, or £4m, to Vladimir Leschevsky, who was deputy head of the Department of Presidential Affairs’  construction arm. Then-president Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russian prosecutors to open a criminal inquiry into Leschevsky, who was suspended, but the case was later closed.

Although several officials in Sochi face corruption charges, no one has been convicted of corruption directly related to Olympic construction.

All athletes’ phone calls to be monitored

Russia’s FSB security service plans to intercept the phone and data traffic of all athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympics in the resort of Sochi, according to Russian journalists.

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan have collected dozens of government documents and public records showing amendments to phone and Wi-Fi networks in the Sochi area which will allow monitoring. Russia’s Sorm monitoring service will detect sensitive words, and people found using such words “can be tracked further”, said Soldatov.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone