A soccer stadium in Russia that has taken nine years to build, costs upward of $700 million, and has been designated to host World Cup matches in 2018 is, perhaps not surprisingly, at the center of a corruption scandal.
The Associated Press reports that Marat Oganesyan, a former deputy governor of St. Petersburg, has been "detained on suspicion of embezzling 50 million rubles" (roughly US$777,000) from the Zenit Arena project, a 68,000-seat venue that also goes by the names Krestovsky Stadium, Gazprom Arena, and St. Petersburg Stadium. Oganesyan is accused of arranging a sweetheart deal with a subcontractor for display screens to be used in the stadium, and siphoning out the money through shell companies.
This is just the latest bit of controversy to emerge from the project, and if the long history of its construction is any guide, it likely won't be the last. Here's more from the AP:
"Until the ruble dropped sharply in value in 2014 against the backdrop of international sanctions and a low oil price, the same ruble budget was worth more than $1 billion, making it one of the most expensive soccer stadiums in history.
"The St. Petersburg City Hall in July fired the general contractor over repeated delays and cost overruns, also saying that authorities have gone to the police because it has allocated $39 million for the construction which has been unaccounted-for."
The project has been so embarrassing, Vladimir Putin himself issued a special decree to speed up construction on the stadium, which broke ground in 2007 and was supposed to be completed by December of the following year, or early in 2009. Well, you know what happens when you get tapped on the shoulder by the boss and she or he says to speed things up. You double your efforts!
Even though the structure is mostly built as of November, it remains fraught with problems, notably an "unstable playing field" and vibration levels that were seven times higher than acceptable. The good news for FIFA, at least, is that they don't appear to be directly blamed for any of this. So far.
The entire affair makes the Vikings stadium deal seem honest by comparison.