Seven kilometers west of Moscow along the Rublyevo-Uspenskoye Highway, a
three-meter-high green metal fence cuts through the cool pine forest.
Behind the fence lies Mayendorf Gardens, a subdivision in the exclusive
and secretive Rublevka community that is home to Forbes millionaires,
State Duma deputies, and high-ranking public officials.
One of the homeowners is Leyla Aliyeva, the elder daughter of
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who is listed in various records as
either 30 or 31 years old. Experts told the Organized Crime and
Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) her property is probably worth tens
of millions of given that the median value of current houses for sale in
the settlement is US$ 37 million.
OCCRP has been tracking the first family’s wealth and the Dacha is just
one of the many luxury mansions the Aliyevs own around the world despite
Ilham Aliyev having only served as a public servant during most of his
President Ilham Aliyev offers toast at the wedding of his daughter, Leyla Aliyeva. (Photo by setup-fa.weebly.com)
Rublyevo-Uspenskoye Highway is the impeccably maintained road that
President Vladimir Putin takes every day as he is whisked from his
residence to his Kremlin office.
When Putin is on the road, other drivers must cool their heels, while
his car zips past surrounded by black security cars with flashers.
Those who aren’t the president can expect to endure heavy traffic,
generally featuring a black Mercedes or white Lexus roaring up from
behind and honking to get by. When they do overtake, the impatient
drivers may bestow some choice words on slower vehicles.
On a trip to Mayendorf Gardens, a reporter for OCCRP was called a number
of things by the speeding drivers, the most printable being “silly
fool!” and “filth!”
Mayendorf Gardens was built on the grounds of the former Soviet health
resort Barvikha that was in the state’s hands until 2001. According to
real estate agents, the landscape
of the gated community features lakes and hills that evoke Alpine views.
It is just a few minutes’ walk from the Chateau Mayendorf – a restored
family estate which Putin likes to use for formal occasions. It’s handy
for him – his official residence, Novo-Ogaryovo, is just a few minutes’
drive from Mayendorf Chateau, a turn-of-the-century castle from which
the area gets its name.
obtained by OCCRP, Leyla Aliyeva obtained a
in the posh gated community in May 2006 – right after she married Emin
Agalarov, a Russian pop singer and entrepreneur of Azerbaijani origin
who is also the son of a major Moscow developer. The couple
they are divorcing in May of this year.
While the Barvikha area was popular among the Soviet elite as far back
as the Stalin years, the early years of this century saw an explosion of
a new kind of exclusive enclave along Rublyevo-Uspenskoye Highway, an
area referred to as Rublevka.
The are plenty of them: Zhukovka, Barvikha, Gorky… One of the Barvikha
houses, in fact, this year made a list of the 15 most expensive rental
properties in the
Rublevka became for Russian citizens a symbol of wealth and elitism, but
elitism of a special kind. People believe such extremely expensive
properties are out of reach for people earning an honest living. And the
building of three-meter fences seems to support that perception.
One Barvikha house is listed as one of the 15 most expensive rental properties in the world. (Photo by rentcafe.com)
Nothing Succeeds Like Excess
At first, average people tried to peer under the fences, and books and
movies about life in Rublevka were popular. But over time the public has
become inured to such luxury, and few now seem surprised that such homes
cost tens of millions of dollars.
Rublevka may even have lost a bit of its luster, as wealthy people now
have properties on the Cote d’Azur or in Miami. “A lot of houses stay
empty for years: some owners got divorced, some moved abroad. Rublevka
hasn’t been selling well lately. But the prices have not come down so
far,” says real estate consultant Natalya Orekhova.
The land Aliyeva bought covers 7,660 square meters (about 2 acres) and
is surrounded by pine trees, with a small lake nearby. Without an
invitation, it’s nearly impossible to take a look at Aliyeva’s house,
since privacy is so highly valued by the community’s residents.
The privacy perimeter begins far from the elaborate houses. From the
checkpoint at the security gatehouse, it is only possible to glimpse a
neat asphalt road leading deep into the forest. Trespassers can’t get
more than a couple of steps beyond the barrier before being intercepted
by security guards.
According to one of the guards, even taking photos is prohibited. “Even
if you are an invited guest, neighbors will rat you out by informing the
security that you have taken pictures. Then we will take a look at your
telephone to make sure no photos of the community remain,” says the
Some details can be gleaned from the documents. Aliyeva’s property
includes two buildings – a large residential house of 577 square meters
and a slightly larger outbuilding of 581 square meters. It is difficult
to accurately estimate the value of the property, as most of the sites
were purchased in the early years of this century.
However, one of Aliyeva’s neighbors, Ruslan
(ranked 103 in the list of wealthy Russians compiled by the Russian
edition of Forbes
Magazine) about two years
ago mortgaged his
in the gated community for almost US$ 40 million. Real estate ads found
on realtors’ websites list similar purchase prices for the area ranging
from US$19 million to upwards of US$73 million.
First Family having fun at the recent European Games in Baku. Image posted on Leyla Aliyeva's Instagram account.
Besides Baysarov (a close friend of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov),
Aliyeva’s neighbors include Alexey
the son of the former president of Rosneft, the biggest Russian oil
metals tycoon who is ranked 8th in the Forbes list; banker Olga
(ranked 2nd in the Forbes’ Women’s List), and several State Duma
In 2014 a number of media outlets
that ousted former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych bought a
property in Mayendorf Gardens. OCCRP has obtained documents on all the
land plots in the gated community, but neither Yanukovych’s name, nor
the names of any of his known associates, are listed as owners.
However, it should be noted that some owners try hard to obscure their
names. Several pieces of property here are registered by offshore
companies from several jurisdictions which lead to British Virgin
Islands or Panama.
Using circular motions, Misael Reyes massages soft wet mud over a copper plate, causing it to flow -- and reveal its riches. “Do you see that silver drop forming?” he asks. “That’s the mercury we use to start separating the gold from the ore we pull out of the mines and grind in these mills.”
In 2011, as then-President Hugo Chavez nationalized the gold mining industry, the leftist leader claimed he had a new idea that would make life better for all Venezuelans. He described a new “mining arc” south of the Orinoco River, in the northern Amazon, that could be exploited for vast minerals.