Free-market-loving, pro-transparency, anti-corruption activist and former Moscow mayoral candidate Alexei Navalni has launched a stellar website to help world citizens see exactly who is raking in the rubles at the Sochi Olympics.
The site is here, and it's in English, allowing people to discover which oligarchs and friends of President Vladimir Putin are building overpriced facilities for the most expensive Olympics ever. The Associated Press notes:
Russia has spent about $51 billion to deliver the Olympics in Sochi, which run Feb. 7-23, making them the most expensive Olympics ever even though winter games have many fewer athletes competing than summer games do.
Navalny claims 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/closing ceremonies and the speed-skating arena.
Allegations of corruption have dogged preparations for the Sochi Games for years, as reported by The Associated Press and others. Navalny's new website — Sochi.FBK.info — combines data gathered during his own investigations along with media reports and other activists' analysis.
The site is very slick and will make Western data-driven investigative reporters applaud. It documents a couple dozen sites connected to the Olympics themselves or the infrastructure to host the Olympics, detailing the financial travails, overpayments, and potential problems for each location. For example, the builders of the Olympic Village received a state loan for more than $670 million to build housing. After the Olympics, the company expects to recoup the costs by selling the housing in the resort community. But based on the construction prices, in order to recoup the costs, the site claims, a single guest room will have to be sold for the price a two-bedroom apartment goes for in Moscow. Experts don't believe there is enough demand for the housing. The state bank has already declared the loans "bad," and if the village tanks after the Olympics, the losses will be covered by the federal budget.
The site documents how overpriced each Olympic venue is with breezy comparisons (instead of buying a seat at the Bolshoy Ice Dome, you could buy a new Toyota Corolla) and compares them to the prices of similar previous Olympic venues.
Olympic overspending is nothing new and Russia is hardly unique, though clearly they're taking it to a degree not yet seen before. Despite an audit from the Russian government showing at least a half-billion in overspending, Putin was dismissive, saying the whole problem was due to "honest mistakes" in estimating costs, according to the AP. Putin must classify himself among those honest-mistakers, as he said last spring the Olympics would cost $6.5 billion, according to the site. Off by a factor of about eight, there, Mr. President.
Reason's Zenon Evans analyzed Navalny's failed effort to defeat a Putin crony to become mayor of Moscow here. Nick Gillespie notes that Olympics are always big money losers here. The Sochi Olympics may yet end up being the money-losingest of them all, except for those friends of Putin's.