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State Cancels Tender After Blogger Uproar

A state tender to service a government residence was canceled three days after its details were published on the Internet and heavily criticized by bloggers, who said budget funds should not be used to maintain golf courses and a “minicasino.”

The Office of Presidential Affairs, which announced the 77.5 million ruble ($2.6 million) tender last week, attributed the quick cancellation to “lack of financing in the federal budget.”

The residence in question is located on Lake Valdai in the Novgorod region, 15 kilometers from the town of Valdai and 0.7 kilometers south of the village of Roshchino. Although the tender refers to it as a “recreational base,” its location appears to be the same as that of the “Uzhin” government residence that has been used since Nikita Khrushchev’s time.

According to a 2006 government order, all state contracts must be publicly contested to increase transparency in state spending. But the system, which President Dmitry Medvedev lauded in his state-of-the-nation address, only began in earnest last year when the platform was relaunched.

The 175-page tender document gives a glimpse of life at notoriously secretive government dachas.

Besides the main three-story building, the property has a guest house, a church, a bathhouse, a banya and sauna, four pools, a horse stable, a driving range, courses for golf and minigolf, a sports complex that includes a hockey rink, two helicopter pads and pontoon bridges.

Most bedrooms — bearing romantic names like Flora, Turquoise, and Pistachio — are equipped with 50-inch plasma television sets and 300-disc DVD changers. The spa has a Turkish bath and Swiss shower, while the VIP Restaurant, as the facility’s main eatery is known, apparently includes a minicasino.

The presence of gambling facilities, in particular, raised bloggers’ hackles, since the government banished virtually all gambling to four remote zones effective July 1. The Valdai tender description was edited one day after the original posting, with the words “minicasino” downgraded to “relaxation room.”

A spokesman for the Office of Presidential Affairs, which manages the vast real estate used by the Kremlin, the government and lawmakers, told reporters that the casino was merely a name used in the documents. But a former member of the presidential administration confirmed to that the casino existed and that it was housed in the same building as a two-lane bowling alley.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has a dacha in the Valdai area, although it was not immediately clear whether it was the same one listed on the tenders web site.

In February, a member of an ABBA tribute band told The Moscow Times that he performed a concert at a Valdai residence for a select audience, which he said included Putin. A government spokesman said at the time that he knew nothing of the concert.

In October, newspapers including the Financial Times reported that Putin celebrated a belated birthday in Valdai with the likes of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was scolded by the Italian press for missing key government meetings the next day.

Putin’s press service denied the reports.

The contract to service the Valdai dacha — along with similar tenders showcasing the luxury enjoyed by government officials — was first reported by Zakupki-News, a LiveJournal community.

The group was started by Alexander Malyutin, a deputy editor of the Gazeta newspaper, and is now monitored by nearly 2,000 people. Malyutin, who called the main tenders web site “a cemetery of Pulitzer Prizes” in a recent column in his newspaper, has taken his transparency crusade a step further, opening Migalki-News on Monday.

The LiveJournal group documents all cars that make use of the detested blue flashing lights that allow senior officials to disregard traffic laws.

Among the notable finds on the database were a gold-lined bed for the Interior Ministry and Lexus sedans with entertainment systems for a government agency that puts out forest fires.

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