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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Live Virtual Training / Events

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Manager is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003