Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - Page 20 News List

Activist publishes files on Sochi corruption

AP, SOCHI, Russia

An interactive Web site launched on Monday by anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny paints a vivid picture of the suspected cost overruns and conflicts of interest at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Russia has spent about US$51 billion to deliver the Sochi Olympics, which run from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23, making them the most expensive Games ever, even though as a winter event, it hosts many fewer athletes than summer Games do.

Navalny says that Russia spent twice as much as necessary to build at least 10 of the Olympic venues — including the Bolshoi Ice Palace, the Fisht Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, and the speed-skating arena.

Allegations of corruption have dogged preparations for the Sochi Games for years.

Navalny’s new Web site — Sochi.FBK.info — combines data gathered during his own investigations with media reports and other activists’ analysis. Using colorful graphics, the Web site makes a wide range of data accessible in English and Russian.

“Athletes are not the only people who compete in Sochi,” Navalny, who finished a strong second in Moscow’s mayoral election last year, wrote on the Web site. “Officials and businessmen also took part in the Games and turned them into a source of income.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected claims about rampant corruption in Sochi, saying the inflated prices were due to the honest mistakes of investors who underestimated the costs.

“If anybody has got this information, please show this to us, but so far we haven’t seen anything except speculation,” Putin said in a recent television interview.

A 2012 report by the Russian Audit Chamber found about 15 billion rubles (US$500 million) in “unreasonable” cost overruns in the preparations for the Sochi Olympics.

Auditors found that the work of some staff members at Olympstroi, the state company in charge of Sochi construction, between 2008 and 2010 was “conducive to incurring unreasonable cost overruns.”

At least three criminal investigations against Olympstroi employees have been opened, but none of them has reached court. Olympstroi has since changed its management.

The Sochi Organizing Committee would not comment on Monday on Navalny’s new Web site.

When asked about it, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said the committee stands “against any form of corruption.”

“Whenever there have been concerns and accusations and information in the past, they have been passed on to the organizing committee,” Bach said.

Navalny does not seem to provide solid evidence of how money was stolen during the many Sochi construction projects.

This has proven extremely difficult to do, because the Games were not covered by Russian laws on tenders and procurement, making officials unaccountable for the money spent.

Olympstroi was given free rein by Putin to “determine the ground rules for selecting investors and contractors” for Olympic venues.

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