Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Paying the final bill for the Sochi Olympics

The infrastructure built for the Winter Olympics might help with future events, but some say investigations are needed into allegations of corruption and poor planning

By Elizabeth Piper  /  Reuters, MOSCOW

Illustration: Yusha

Even before yesterday’s closing ceremony, contractors and investors in Russia’s Winter Olympics were scrambling to make sure their books balanced before Russian President Vladimir Putin launches a face-saving audit of the Games.

After months of criticism over the record-breaking price tag and allegations from members of the opposition of fraud and corruption, Putin has signaled that reports of corruption, waste or abuse of funds will be investigated after the event, if there is evidence.

“A very large amount of money has been invested. Now is not the time to discuss whether it was worth it, or whether the prices were inflated or not. Let the supervisory bodies deal with that, and they will deal with it,” Putin told Sochi city officials shortly after the Games began this month.

However, instead of singling out the high-profile businessmen who splashed out to build glittering stadiums, hotels and a costly railway to the ski slopes, many Russians think he is more likely to look for scapegoats among local and lower-ranking officials.

That way he can satisfy public calls for punishment, but minimize the political fallout, political analysts say.

Sochi has had an Olympic facelift to bring the dreary Soviet-era resort loved by former Soviet leader Josef Stalin into the 21st century.

However, perched on a plastic chair before lines of officials in suits, Putin made clear he was not entirely happy with it.

He praised the mountain facilities, new sewage works and roads and the more than 40,000 hotel rooms provided by his oligarch friends as their part of the bargain to make Russia look good at the Games.

Sleek seafront hotels of glass and steel now tower over the updated port in central Sochi, where huge cruise liners have been docked since the Olympics opened on Feb. 7.

However, away from the palm tree-lined seafront, Sochi is dotted with the grey empty shells of half-finished apartment blocks and their attendant cranes. Along the new train track to the mountains lie the concrete hulks of derelict buildings.

Putin was not impressed.

“I do not think that it [Sochi] has got much better. In fact, just the opposite. When people are talking, they say: ‘When will you stop building chaotically and senselessly in the town?’” he said.

When regional lawmaker Mikhail Milenin tried to defend the state of the city, Putin accused officials of failing to stop the chaotic development and concluded: “They do nothing.”

Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov and Alexander Tkachyov, the governor of the Krasnodar region that includes the Olympic city, may have cause to worry, but lower-level officials will probably be the ones to lose out.

“There will be punishments, because society demands it, so they’ll find someone to punish,” said Sergei Markov, a pro-Putin political analyst and director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow.

He said lowly “clerks” in business groups or local administrations were likely to be the scapegoats.

“The opposition has managed to persuade people that there was widespread corruption here, and that cannot be ignored ... but also so no one ‘robs’ during the next big projects,” he said.

The cost of staging the games and building the infrastructure around it is widely expected to come to US$51 billion, but an opposition report last year suggested about US$30 billion of this had been stolen or wasted.

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