It’s time to update the legal situation of former Defense Minister, military reformer, and “witness” to enormous corruption right under his nose, Anatoliy Serdyukov.
On these pages, it’s been said there’s no way Serdyukov can escape the prosecutors and jail. That assessment may have been hasty.
It reflects a vain hope that even Russia, with it’s unbelievable corruption and light regard for the rule of law, will indict and convict someone too smart and too financially savvy not to know what his “women’s battalion” was doing with MOD property and shares in the quasi-military companies of Oboronservis.
Someone who clearly knew how various schemes involving his brother-in-law and military property would look if unearthed.
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, politics and clan membership trumps law and everything else. Serdyukov betrayed one of his benefactors by jilting his wife, Viktor Zubkov’s daughter, but remains free. It must be Putin’s political calculation that keeps him out of prison.
Still, Serdyukov hasn’t been a cooperative witness; he’s practically been a suspect if we take the tone of what GVSU SKR investigators have told the media.
Last week Kommersant reviewed the facts regarding Serdyukov in an article on the GVSU SKR’s decision to prolong its investigation surrounding Zhitnoye until January 17.
The Oboronservis corruption investigations swirl around Serdyukov, but haven’t been directly connected to him. They will continue until March.
The Zhitnoye case bears the most direct involvement by Serdyukov, according to Kommersant. The paper believes it’s still fully possible he could turn from witness to accused in this case.
The affair might have ended in September when Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov and one of his partners returned this property worth 150 million rubles to two “autonomous departments” of the MOD. The MOD would have thus suffered no injury. But investigators in the case argued Zhitnoye didn’t go directly back to the MOD whose budget paid for improvements at the Volga resort. Road and bridge construction and landscaping at Zhitnoye cost the MOD 15.5 million rubles.
Puzikov fled Russia in February, so we may never hear what he would say if questioned.
GVSU investigators say Serdyukov’s former deputies and his other underlings say he personally supervised work on Zhitnoye, but the GVSU’s case is still directed against “unidentified MOD officials.” Serdyukov signed paperwork about Zhitnoye, and visited 17 times, but doesn’t recall other circumstances about the property, so he remains a witness.
On Serdyukov’s personal involvement, Kommersant writes:
“That fact is obvious because the beneficiary of the former official’s [Serdyukov's] malfeasance was his close relative Valeriy Puzikov.”
“So it’s early to say that Anatoliy Serdyukov is no longer of interest in the military investigation. Moreover, sources close to the investigation led us to believe that evidence gathered on the case could completely influence a change in the ex-minister’s procedural status. However, a political decision is required for this.”
For his part, Serdyukov’s lawyer says the MOD suffered no damages, and he calls the entire investigation a waste of time and resources.
The other two “Serdyukov dacha” cases weren’t mentioned in this latest round of news.
However, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote last week about a St. Petersburg property that reportedly long interested Serdyukov — the gardener’s house on the grounds of the Tauride Palace. Apparently, unknown persons acquired it for the MOD in 2008, then it was sold by Yevgeniya Vasilyeva’s people to a shadowy firm formed just months earlier for 384 million rubles. There is suspicion the buyer was under Puzikov’s control.
Izvestiya reported that “power” ministry representatives (i.e. primarily of course the SKR) were called to the PA and ordered to stop broadcasting PR about investigations like those involving Serdyukov and Oboronservis, “which don’t have a chance of being cracked.”
The paper’s source in the PA said unwinding these scandals creates a “negative image” of the authorities in the public’s mind. This official continued:
“While high-profile corruption cases will not be brought to court, they shouldn’t be so zealously publicized in the media. No one has yet been punished, investigative actions go on, and the common man is already getting an impression about the impunity of criminals and powerlessness of the law enforcement organs.”
This conversation was conducted, first and foremost (but not exclusively), about Oboronservis, although not Serdyukov by name.
Another PA source said siloviki shouldn’t “air” criminal cases featuring highly-placed officials and serious damage to the nation’s budget.
Commenting on the Oboronservis scandals, MGU criminal law professor Vladimir Kommissarov describes not just criminal conspiracies but an entire “organized community” of corruption:
“There are surely forces not interested in the development of this criminal case — any criminal case of such a scale can attract other criminal cases. It’s possible for one person to steal a million, but when we talk about dozens and hundreds of millions, then obviously not simply an organized group is at work, but an organized community.”
Izvestiya concludes that the state’s anti-corruption policy [such as it is] is based on the inevitability of punishment for offenders. And this is what law enforcement is demanding from the PA. Correspondingly, it should be possible to expect that all big corruption cases could end with real terms for all suspects.
But Serdyukov remains at most a suspect. Perhaps investigators are starting to close in on him. He didn’t really talk to them until March when confronted with property documents he had signed.
It still appears Serdyukov’s fate is controlled at the highest level. Putin apparently told SKR chief Aleksandr Bastrykin early on that he didn’t want to send the former Defense Minister to jail. But investigators are pressing forward. If they change Serdyukov’s status from witness to accused, then perhaps Putin isn’t the complete master of this game.