leopardCub

Russian political corruption exposed by cute animal website

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A Russian website devoted to pictures of cute animals has inadvertently revealed apparent political corruption, simply by posting a picture of a high-ranking politician holding a leopard cub—and sporting a watch whose cost “exceeds [his] annual salary.”

The scandal’s slow unraveling began when Alexander Volkov, the Russian-appointed president of the Republic of Udmurtia, committed to what he thought was a standard photo-op this May, posing for a few minutes with an adorable baby animal at a local zoo. The zoo even used a photo from that shoot as a billboard, with Volkov’s left wrist prominently displayed, revealing an unremarkable watch.

On Oct. 12, however, blogger Andrey Konoval posted what he said was the un-photoshopped version of that photo, revealing Volkov to have worn a Breguet Classique Grande Complication, which retails for 3.6 million rubles ($115,000).

Ostentatious watches, Breguets in particular, have a heavy connotation of corruption in Russia. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church was heavily criticized after being caught wearing a Breguet in April. And the country’s ruling party, United Russia—Volkov is a member—has even been termed the “Party of Breguets” by some bloggers.

Volkov’s press secretary initially cried Photoshopping right back, claiming that Volkov wore a boring watch, and that designers had altered his photo to make it look like he was wearing a Breguet. A site that had posted several different photos from the May photoshoot, IzhLife.ru, soon mysteriously went down, and remains down as of this writing, though its Facebook and YouTube pages are still active.

But Volkov’s claims have been refuted by Good News Animal, a blog that just posts pictures of cute animals. The site had already covered the original photo-op in May, because, well, baby leopard cub. Its post even includes video, which shows Volkov with the nicer watch.

Even if there hadn’t been any animal blogs around to capture the moment, though, Konoval likely could have proven Volkov wore a Breguet that day.

Traveling to the zoo, he found that the old watch on Volkov wasn’t Photoshopped before it printed—someone had simply glued the old watch over the nice one. Konoval uploaded video evidence of the edit to YouTube.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons