Tag Archives: SKR

Serdyukov Suspected

Anatoliy Serdyukov’s no longer a witness; he’s a suspect.

The Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR) suspects the former defense minister of negligence leading to the loss of more than 56 million rubles.  He reportedly gave verbal orders to use budget money to finance a road to the Zhitnoye resort in Astrakhan Oblast, and to have railroad troops build it.  Soldiers were also reportedly employed in landscaping Zhitnoye, owned by Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov.

Putin and Medvedev at Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Putin and Medvedev at Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Serdyukov will appear on 3 December for questioning under Part 1, Article 293 of the RF Criminal Code, which reads:

“1.  Negligence, that is the non-fulfillment or unreliable fulfillment of his obligations by a responsible person as a result of an unconscientious or negligent attitude toward service, if this inflicts a great loss or material damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens or organizations or interests of society or the state protected by the law, -“

“Punishable by a fine in an amount up to one hundred twenty thousand rubles or in the amount of wages or other proceeds of the guilty party for a one year period, or mandatory work for a period up to three hundred sixty hours, or correctional labor for the period of one year, or arrest for a period up to three months.”

A command “from above” to pursue Serdyukov was required, and, apparently, it’s been given.

According to ITAR-TASS, SKR spokesman Vladimir Markin says a “final evaluation” of Serdyukov’s “illegal activity” will be made during the investigation.

Some observers believe, at a minimum, Serdyukov’s orders look like a more serious charge of “misuse of official authority” (Article 285).  But, as Nezavisimaya gazeta writes, most doubt prosecutors will lay a heavier accusation on Serdyukov.

Political commentator Gleb Pavlovskiy says making Serdyukov a suspect raises the bar for the next targets of anti-corruption investigations, but Pavlovskiy doesn’t think he’ll receive any real sentence:

“As regards Serdyukov, apparently, there’s a point of view that he must be punished somehow, but he mustn’t suffer because he was a politically loyal functionary.  The new accusation proceeds from the idea that Serdyukov is guilty for not preventing the growth of MOD corruption to a scandalous proportion, but he’s not guilty himself.”

Similarly, politician and analyst Vladimir Ryzhkov suggests a nominal conviction and sentence of community service hours might satisfy public opinion, and give President Putin an acceptable exit from a thorny problem.

Observer Igor Bunin adds:

“. . . Putin, when he decided it was necessary to sort things out with Serdyukov, followed two goals.  From one side, make the elite understand that it’s forbidden to cross certain lines, and from the other side — raise his own prestige.  But at the same time he understood that he depends on this elite, and it’s impossible to punish this once close person severely, he was in the very tight-knit group connected to Putin.”

Political scientist Pavel Salin, however, thinks Serdyukov’s fate may be the object of struggle between “hardliners” and moderates.  No longer satisfied with Putin as arbiter of the political system, “hardliners” want a conviction, while moderates want to limit blowback on the elite and the status quo, and to confine anti-corruption measures to lower levels.

Ryzhkov also wonders if something along these lines is changing:

“It seems Putin himself wants to toughen something up.  At least the simultaneous start of the criminal case against Serdyukov and the announcement of creation of the Kremlin’s agency for battling corruption [PA anti-corruption directorate] shows that, possibly, they are really at least trying something to toughen the struggle against corruption.”

Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Speaking for his client, Serdyukov’s lawyer said he hasn’t been charged, and acknowledging any kind of guilt is “out of the question.”  Until now, he was a witness to property machinations involving Oboronservis and Slavyanka that occurred during his tenure as defense minister.

Just back on 15 November Serdyukov was named head of Rostekh’s obscure Federal Testing Research Center for Machinebuilding.

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.”

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?