Tag Archives: Investigative Committee

Still A Witness

Serdyukov on His Way to the SKR (photo: Kommersant / Dmitriy Dukhanin)

Serdyukov on His Way to the SKR (photo: Kommersant / Dmitriy Dukhanin)

For now.

On Friday, the Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR) subjected Anatoliy Serdyukov to a couple hours of questioning about the Oboronservis corruption scandal.  This session was scheduled when the former defense minister refused to answer questions on December 28 because his attorney was ill and not present.

Nothing much changed this time. 

Media accounts claim Serdyukov again effectively refused to answer SKR questions, taking the Russian version of the 5th (the 51st Article of the RF Constitution against self-incrimination).  He presented some written material to investigators describing the process of selling excess Defense Ministry property during his tenure.  But, according to Vedomosti, Serdyukov denied any wrongdoing, and placed blame for the sale of significantly undervalued and underpriced military real estate squarely and completely on his former subordinates (currently under indictment).

SKR patience with Serdyukov is wearing thin.  In fact, spokesman Vladimir Markin basically warned that he could become a suspect:

“In this situation, the former defense minister’s position might be regarded as an attempt to obstruct the investigation.  If the former defense minister believes he did not participate in those events which have become the subject of the investigation, then it would be fully logical to answer specific questions of interest to investigators.  But Mr. Serdyukov and his attorney believe it simpler to lay out a free form version of events in a light favorable to himself, and not to answer uncomfortable questions of substance for the investigators.  But in the investigation there is a large number of questions for Serdyukov about how decisions on the sale of Defense Ministry property were made, why deals were made at certain prices.”

“The position Mr. Serdyukov has taken does not guarantee that he will remain just a witness in the case.  It is fully probable his status could change.”

Kommersant and Interfax.ru reported Serdyukov claimed he signed off on paperwork for Defense Ministry property deals without looking into their “commercial aspects.”

A Kommersant source in the SKR admitted problems connecting Serdyukov to property sales or kickbacks.  However, he said investigators are looking at why Defense Ministry personnel and equipment built an 8-kilometer, 20-million-ruble road for a VIP resort in Astrakhan Oblast partly owned by the ex-defense minister’s brother-in-law, Valeriy Puzikov.  They’re also looking into high-priced Black Sea vacation homes built by Puzikov on Defense Ministry land.  

The SKR is apparently warming up charges against Serdyukov for exceeding and misusing his official authority. 

Investigators are clearly turning up the heat on Anatoliy Eduardovich.

Okryg.ru wrapped it succinctly:

“Serdyukov has a lot to be silent about.  Because if they’ve already decided to put him in jail, then helping the investigation is unrewarding.  Besides, it seems, the ex-minister still has a glimmer of hope that they will protect him.  Or, if you like, fight them off.”

“Judging by the reaction of official SK representative Vladimir Markin to the result of the second questioning, the Investigative Committee’s intention to put Serdyukov behind bars is practically unyielding.”

The blog calls Serdyukov a Putin creature who became “untouchable” but then got out of Putin’s control.  It concludes:

“The status of Anatoliy Serdyukov (witness or accused) depends not on what he said or was silent about, and not on how the investigator evaluated his answers or silence.  The fate of an official at such a level, at which Anatoliy Serdyukov dwelled, is decided exclusively in the Kremlin, that is, at the highest level.”

So will Putin see any reason to save Serdyukov, or will Putin leave him to the wolves?  Or can Putin control the wolves at this point?

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Can He Possibly Avoid Prosecution?

Anatoliy Serdyukov (photo: ITAR-TASS / Aleksandr Mudrats)

Probably not.

It seems likely President Vladimir Putin, at some point, will turn Anatoliy Serdyukov over to the law, such as it is in Russia.  Despite assertions to the contrary, Putin will bow to evidence his former defense minister knew about,  condoned, or even participated in corruption schemes.

What’s Putin’s calculus?

Putin stands to look like a corruption fighter, perhaps for the first time.  Most of that corruption occurred on his protege-predecessor’s watch.  Serdyukov’s lost his tie to Putin’s closest associates through his estranged father-in-law Viktor Zubkov, so it’s free fire.  Putin can even save money by not pouring all 19 trillion rubles into new arms procurement by 2020 while investigators and prosecutors take at least 2-3 years unraveling the mess.

Few will recall Putin appointed Serdyukov to straighten out the Defense Ministry’s financial flows.  That didn’t work out too well.  Not many will remember Serdyukov was brought in because of the meager results of Putin’s stewardship of defense between 2000 and 2007.  Essentially, 12 years of Putin’s control and direction of the armed forces (de jure, de facto, or both) have come to little.  None of this will loom large politically for Putin.

On balance, it’s an easy decision to turn Anatoliy Eduardovich over to his fate.

Compared with nine months ago, clouds completely surround Serdyukov now.

Izvestiya wrote about his sister’s wealth right after the scandal broke.  A FGUP her husband ran won a lucrative one-bidder Defense Ministry vehicle leasing contract in 2010.  It’s not clear he was in charge of the firm when it got the deal.  But there can’t be any doubt the family connection was the reason for getting it.  The story appeared here, but the role of Serdyukov’s brother-in-law was unknown at the time.

This week the media reported Oboronservis affiliates responsible for paying energy suppliers for heating military installations are suddenly 4 billion rubles in the red.

The Investigative Committee (SK) searched Serdyukov’s cottage, along with those of other defense officials.

One-time Serdyukov deputy, apparent girlfriend, and central scandal figure, Yevgeniya Vasilyeva was denied bail and is under home detention.

Law enforcement sources are talking anonymously about much higher-profile and wider investigations.  There’s nibbling at other edges.  The SK is looking into alleged GOZ misappropriations.  The Main Military Prosecutor is reviewing old accusations about the poor design and quality of the army’s new uniforms.

Can Serdyukov avoid prosecutorial sharks with this much blood in the water?  Probably not.  Is he responsible for all Defense Ministry corruption?  Yes, by virtue of his former position. 

Could he become a sympathetic figure if he goes to prison?  Maybe.  Serdyukov might be seen as someone unwilling or unable to fix a broken system.  Perhaps guilty, but no more than Putin . . . a scapegoat or symbol of Russian problems larger than one man or one department of government.

General Trash

Late last week news services reported the Investigative Committee (SK) lodged serious allegations against former commander of the Special Designation Command (KSpN), retired General-Colonel Yuriy Solovyev.  The KSpN was a forerunner of today’s VVKO.

Retired General-Colonel Yuriy Solovyev

The gist of the story goes like this.  In 2006, Solovyev supposedly allowed a commercial firm, Proyekt Stroy to establish and operate an unregistered landfill on military property under his command.

Specifically, military unit 62845, which, according to Warfare.ru, is the 584th Guards SAM Regiment (5th PVO Brigade), near the settlements of Lytkino, Marino, and Povarovo in Moscow Oblast’s Solnechnogorsk Rayon.

Vicinity of Lytkino, Marino, and Povarovo

The regiment operates S-300PM (SA-20 / Gargoyle) SAMs.

The SK apparently plans to charge him for “exceeding his authority with infliction of serious consequences.”  Gazeta.ru reports the 64-year-old ex-general checked into a hospital (where he can’t be charged or interrogated).  His alleged crime could bring a possible 3- to 10-year prison sentence.

According to Gazeta, Solovyev contracted with Proyekt Stroy to reclaim some land, but actually allowed it to use it for an illegal landfill.  The dump grew five times, from four to 20 hectares (about 50 acres or 1/5 of a square kilometer), during Solovyev’s tenure, according to the SK announcement.

Gazeta says specialists estimate the landfill has caused 8 billion rubles in environmental damages.  The investigation is continuing, and more names connected to the case are expected to emerge.

The news site noted that the case stemmed from an MVD investigation back in March.  The MVD announced then that “an organized group consisting of former and current highly-placed RF Defense Ministry officials” was responsible for the dump.  At the time, it estimated 13 billion rubles in damages to the state.

The MVD said the pits Proyekt Stroy dug threatened Moscow’s reservoirs and groundwater sources.  Federal Water Resources Agency experts found concentrations of toxins elevated by more than 200 times at the site.  Vzglyad’s report on this story indicated mercury alone was found at 30 times the allowable level.  Proyekt Stroy reportedly cut 18 hectares of forest before digging the landfill.

Gazeta adds that locals described the dump as the size of five soccer fields and having a powerful stench of methane.  One talked of changes in the color of a nearby stream’s water.  He also estimated possible profit from the trash heap at  $100,000 per day, and confirmed that the military controlled access to the site.

Experts claim this isn’t a unique story, with more than 700 unsanctioned dumps located around Moscow.  They’ve been ignored, but the problem is catastrophic.  New Moscow Oblast Governor Sergey Shoygu has vowed to close illegal landfills, according to Vzglyad.

Kommersant’s March reportage indicated the dump was first reported by locals last September.  The paper claimed 50 “guest workers” work there and live in nearby barracks.  It added that the SAM regiment’s missile launchers were not more than 200 meters from the site.

Kommersant concluded ominously:

“Now the investigation will clarify exactly who in the Defense Ministry permitted the organization of a trash heap right next to militarymen and why they closed their auditing eyes to its operation.”

They’ve apparently found at least one person to blame.