The Russian general who oversaw the building of Vladimir Putin’s luxurious Black Sea palace and knew all of its secrets has died suddenly in prison.
Gennady Lopyrev, 69, had been due for parole but was reportedly diagnosed with leukaemia on Aug 14 and died two days later.
News agencies reported that he hadn’t previously complained of feeling ill but a Russian prisons watchdog official insisted that Lopyrev had died of natural causes.
“There was no crime,” said Viktor Boborykin of Russia’s Public Monitoring Commission.
Lopyrev was imprisoned in the IK-3 prison colony in the Ryazan region in central Russia for 10 years in 2017 for taking bribes in exchange for lucrative building contracts. IK-3 is a tough prison targeted by the Kremlin’s Wagner mercenary group for convict recruits to fight in Ukraine.
Lopyrev had previously been a lieutenant-general in the Federal Protection Service (FSO), the 50,000-strong military unit controlled by the Presidential Administration that is tasked with guarding Putin.
News agencies reported that as an FSO commander in the North Caucasus, one of Lopyrev’s main projects was to oversee construction and security of Mr Putin’s palace at Gelendzhik near Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast.
Hidden away in forests
Construction began in 2005 and cost an estimated £780 million. It is built in a mock Italian Renaissance fashion and is hidden away in forests next to a cliff that falls away to a sandy private beach.
The palace has a chapel, an underground ice hockey pitch, a vineyard, a theatre and helicopter landing pads.
It was supposed to be Putin’s impregnable luxury fortress and the US-based Institute for the Study of War said that Lopyrev would have been one of the only people who knew all its secrets: its entrances and exits; its weaknesses and strengths.
Corruption is rife in Russia’s armed forces but it is unusual for high-ranking generals to be charged and sent to prison for bribe-taking unless they have fallen out of favour.
In 2016, when Lopyrev was arrested, media reports said he had stubbornly denied the charges and claimed that he had been set up by other senior officers.