Tag Archives: SK

Serdyukov Speaks to Investigators

Former Defense Minister Serdyukov apparently decided to speak to investigators last week, shifting his previous stance of taking the 51st or providing written statements.  Media outlets said the appearance of “new materials” caused the change in his tactics.

Last Monday, Newsru.com recapped a Kommersant story saying that Serdyukov’s signature was on documents transferring the Bolshoy Utrish property to his brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov.  But investigators haven’t talked to the ex-minister about that case yet, which they say amounts to large-scale fraud by a group of conspirators.

Recall the Defense Ministry obtained this Black Sea coastal property near Anapa in 2010 to build a radar station, but, with the help of Yekaterina Smetanova, it was excessed for two-thirds of the military’s purchase price to Puzikov. 

According to Newsru.com from Tuesday, Serdyukov was called to the GVSU SKR to meet with investigators about the Zhitnoye dacha.  ITAR-TASS said he provided 11 pages of evidence, and claimed the Defense Ministry participated in this civilian project out of military “necessity.”

On Wednesday, Politkom.ru commentator Tatyana Stanovaya reported that the ex-Defense Minister talked to investigators for five hours.

She believes Putin doesn’t want Serdyukov to sit in jail, and anonymous media sources say he told SKR chief Aleksandr Bastrykin as much early on.  She sees it like this:

“It’s important for Putin to sort out the corruption cases, to intimidate the elite, but generally not to get worn out with real purges.  He recognizes corruption as an evil, but an unbeatable evil which is part of Russia’s historical tradition.  In other words, for Putin thievery is an insufficient basis for ‘sitting’ given the political loyalty of the ‘figure.’”

Bastrykin notwithstanding, the siloviki think they long since had enough evidence for Serdyukov’s prosecution. 

Stanovaya cites Kommersant’s report that the former minister decided to cooperate, to talk, because investigators recently conducted searches and seized documents on the case from his relatives.  The commentator believes his more constructive position improves his chances of escaping the affair without criminal charges.

If the existing affair of the three dachas weren’t enough, Nezavisimaya gazeta unearthed another issue last week.

In the deal to import light armored vehicles from the Italian firm IVECO, Serdyukov’s Defense Ministry allegedly conspired to avoid paying customs duties amounting to $10 million.  All for vehicles of questionable suitability for Russian conditions.  NG concludes charges will be brought against the Oboronservis officials involved in the purchase.   

The paper wonders out loud if Serdyukov will play a part in the regime’s anti-corruption campaign (such as it is): 

“A critical mass of dissatisfaction is accumulating.  The country’s leadership is turning into a hostage of its own effort to reprove part of the confused elite in this way.  Citizens have learned too much about the life of high officialdom so it’s possible the ‘valve could turn’ at any moment.  It’s possible for this besides the usual cosmetic means of a party-political character a serious sacrificial victim is required – if the process of disclosures goes far enough.  It’s possible that now some backstage casting for the role of such a victim is going on.”

Izvestiya provided details on Serdyukov’s personal involvement in building Puzikov’s resort on Zhitnoye, where he claimed officers could stay (but not for free) after air defense exercises at Ashuluk.  The former Defense Minister traveled to the site 17 times between 2010 and 2012, while the road construction and landscaping was in progress, on Air Forces helicopters leased to Chkalov Avia.  That company’s majority owner is Anna Tretyakova, and her mother Yelena is general director of Zhitnoye.

Former General Staff Chief Makarov reportedly told investigators he ordered railroad troops (v/ch 42677) to build the 6.7-kilometer road and three bridges on Serdyukov’s personal order.  The construction materials came from that unit. 
 
A law enforcement source told the paper Puzikov and Serdyukov didn’t miss a trick: 
 
“First they built themselves a dacha at government expense, and then they wanted to rent out the very same — also at government expense.”

Moskovskiy komsomolets concludes Serdyukov’s assertion that Zhitnoye would serve the needs of servicemen would be funny if it weren’t so sad.  Then:

“So, as ‘MK’ has already written, Serdyukov must sit.  Otherwise Vladimir Putin can’t prove to 140 million Russian citizens that he is as before master of the situation.”

On balance, it seems prosecutors are closing on Serdyukov.  As written here in November, there’s too much blood in the water.  Putin will sacrifice him.  His effort to rebalance the political system he created depends on more than not letting the siloviki have Serdyukov.

And what of Serdyukov-instituted reforms which promised to change still largely Soviet Armed Forces into a more modern military?  The pain of reforms joined with the taint of high-level corruption to undermine them.  Their opponents could not possibly devise a more ingenious strategy to discredit them.  That too would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

It’s All Relative (Part I)

Serdyukov in More Ebullient Times (photo: Russianlook.com)

Serdyukov in More Ebullient Times (photo: Russianlook.com)

The SK tried again Tuesday to question former Defense Minister Serdyukov about the disposition of military property near the resort town of Anapa.  But, as Interfaks reported, Mr. Serdyukov once more invoked his 51st article right against incriminating himself or close relatives.  And RF Prosecutor General Yuriy Chayka told the Duma the entire Defense Ministry corruption affair now adds up to 25 criminal cases and more than 5 billion rubles in losses to the state.

Newsru.com nicely wraps the state of play in the Defense Ministry scandal.  It’s entitled “Relatives Saving Serdyukov:  Investigators Address the Affair’s Outlook, Journalists — His Family Business Ties.”

“The inquest has brought preliminary investigative results in the ‘Oboronservis’ corruption affair, whose episodes and figures have grown so strongly for several months it’s no wonder people are confused.  The results are as yet inauspicious — the figures are silent, shielding themselves with the Constitution, or they are fleeing the country.  But, investigators note, it’s premature to say the affair will begin to subside and the former defense minister will remain in his previous status [witness].  And journalists meanwhile are trying to unscramble the great tangle of family ties enmeshing the corruption affair.”

“‘Serdyukov is going through this affair as a (‘landscaping’) witness.  To make any supposition concerning his procedural status in the future is incorrect, at a minimum.  I can assure readers of only one thing — professionals who will sort out this affair perfectly and will precisely name everyone who is guilty in what has happened work in the SKR’s Main Military Investigative Directorate [GVSU],’ director of the SKR’s Main Military Investigative Directorate Aleksandr Sorochkin told ‘Rossiyskaya gazeta’.”

“The business about improving recreation facility ‘Zhitnoye’ which belongs to Anatoliy Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov, as is known, is not the only one on which the inquest has concrete questions for the ex-minister. But they still haven’t managed to get his statements on this episode or on others.  As is known, on 19 February Serdyukov, together with his girlfriend and ex-chief of the Defense Ministry’s property department Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, was called for questioning on episodes involving land near Anapa and the activity of the St. Petersburg engineering-technical center, which the already earlier mentioned Puzikov directed.  But both refused to talk, citing the 51st article of the Constitution on the right not to bear witness against oneself and relatives.”

“If all three figures weren’t relatives [sic?], then investigators could make them criminally responsible according to art. 308 UK RF (‘Refusal of witness or victim to give statements’), levy a fine and even arrest them for a term up to three months, ‘Kommersant’ notes.  In this way, family ties have saved the ex-minister from potentially dangerous outcomes.”

“In a conversation with ‘RG’ the main military investigator presented the results by the number of episodes and figures well-known at present in the ‘Oboronservis’ affair.  As concerns Serdyukov, for him, the witness, there are immediate questions on the three ‘dacha’ episodes.”

“Serdyukov’s Three ‘Dachas’”

“The first is the ‘Zhitnoye’ recreation facility in Mouth of the Volga, owned by his brother-in-law, but managed by the mother of the CEO of OOO ‘Chkalov Avia’ Yelena Tretyakova, whom they earlier suspected of transporting facility guests and soldiers involved in its landscaping (‘ the aviation episode’) at Defense Ministry expense.”

“The second ‘recreational episode’ concerns a plot in Temryuk Rayon of Krasnodar Kray, where, it’s alleged, an elite vacation home was built on land illegally transferred from the Defense Ministry.  They’ve dubbed the facility with its grand buildings, pool, park, quay and helicopter pad served by locals ‘Serdyukov’s dacha’.  Considered instrumental in the acquisition of this former military land is the ex-chief of Moscow Air Forces District depot Maksim Zakutaylo – common law husband of Yekaterina Smetanova, ex-director of OOO ‘Expert’ Legal Support Center’ and accused in a number of other episodes.”

“And finally, there are questions for Serdyukov about the allegedly illegal disposition of military land in the village of Bolshoy Utrish near Anapa.  In 2009 the Defense Ministry wrung this territory out of itself for the construction of a radar station for Black Sea Fleet ships rebasing from Sevastopol, however built it up with cottages, ‘Kommersant’ writes.  According to some information, the personal signature of Serdyukov is on documents about the land’s transfer.  And the very same brother-in-law Puzikov worked on developing the property.”

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.