Daughters of fortune

Hands Opening Envelope Containing Cash

(Business New Europe – bne.eu – August 21, 2013) With Moscow about to vote for a new mayor this September, opposition blogger and candidate for the job Alexei Navalny is doing what he does best: exposing the sweet little earners that come from being well connected.

In this case it is Anna Sobyanina, the daughter of Moscow’s incumbent mayor, Sergei Sobyanin. Anna is a 25-year-old entrepreneur who founded the Forus Group, a nice little business that decorates offices with posh furniture. The thing is, when you scroll through the list of clients and completed projects it turns out they are exclusively government buildings in Moscow, St Petersburg and Khanty-Mansiysk – all places where her father happened to have served in government.

Navalny goes on to point out that Sobyanin has a very plush 308-square-metre apartment on Rochdelskaya Street in the heart of Moscow that is worth well over a million dollars. The trouble with this is that the apartment used to belong to the state and although it can be privatised, Russians are only allowed to privatise one state-owned apartment in their life. Sobyanin has already privatised one apartment in Tyumen, where he used to work. “The apartment on Rochdelskaya Street is either government housing, which cannot be privatized, or it is obtained for public lease [for free] ahead of the queue, which is possible if Sobyanin is an orphan, suffers from epilepsy or a hurricane blew away his Tyumen apartment,” Navalny wrote on his blog.

It doesn’t end there. Two weeks after daughter Anna’s 25th birthday, she bought a 204-sqm apartment in the heart of St Petersburg that Navalny estimates is worth RUB116m ($3.5m) now – or just over four-times what Sobyanin officially earned in total over the last ten years. “How does the 25-year-old daughter of a civil servant, whose maximum salary for the last 10 years was RUB27m, come to have an apartment worth RUB116m? Perish the very thought that Civil Servant Sobyanin gave this magnificent apartment in the center of St Pete’s as a gift to his daughter for her 25th birthday,” Navalny wrote.

Not that anyone in Russia will be surprised by this revelation. Kseniya Sobchak is Russia’s best-known “It girl” and thought to be worth a bundle. When police raided her apartment after she appeared at an opposition rally they found over a million dollars in cash in various currencies. How she amassed her fortune is unclear, but she also happens to be the daughter of the former mayor of St Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak.

Navalny’s allegations would be enough to cause a major scandal in the West, but Sobyanin is almost certain to walk away with a first round win in the Moscow mayoral election and Navlany will have done well if he gets over 13% of the vote. For world-weary Muscovites, it’s just another case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.