Tag Archives: Yevgeniya Vasilyeva

Long Road from Witness to Accused

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

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.

Zhitnoye in Winter

Zhitnoye in Winter

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.

Serdyukov's Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Serdyukov’s Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

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.

Gardener's House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Gardener’s House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

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.

It’s All Relative (Part II)

Regret the delay in returning to the rest of this summary of the Oboronservis scandal from Newsru.com.

“The ‘Oboronservis’ Affair:  Figures and Episodes”

“Despite, more precisely, thanks to his unconstructive, in the SKR’s opinion, silence, Serdyukov continues to keep his witness status in the ‘Oboronservis’ affair.  At present the number of accused has reached eight.  And the charge of particularly large-scale fraud has been leveled at the former head of OAO ‘Oboronservis’ Vasilyeva (the restraint measure is house arrest), Smetanova (personal recognizance) and Zakutaylo (arrest).  Smetanova is also implicated in commercial bribery as a result of investigation of activity which the ‘Oboronservis’ affair initiated.”

“Another branch of the anticorruption investigation concerns OAO ‘Slavyanka’ and ZAO ‘Security and Communications.’  The three affairs, united into one case, arose over falsely signed statements of completed construction and cleaning work on Kolymazhnyy Lane, the Military Academy of the General Staff and a number of other facilities.  As of today in this affair the charge of particularly large-scale fraud has been leveled at five:  former general director of ‘Slavyanka’ and ‘Security’ founder Aleksandr Yelkin; Andrey Luganskiy, who has been general director of ‘Security’ since April 2011; ‘Security’ head bookkeeper Yuliya Rotanova.  And also Nikolay Ryabykh and Konstantin Lapshin — former acting chief of the Defense Ministry’s administrative directorate and chief of ‘Slavyanka’s’ repair department.  All of them are under arrest.”

“The largest part of criminal cases in ‘Oboronservis’ concerns the disposition of several pieces of property.  They are the complex of buildings ‘31st State Planning Institute of Special Construction’ and the ‘Main Directorate of Troop Installations,’ the hotel ‘Soyuz’ and the premises of OAO ‘Mosvoyentorg’ on the Arbat, buildings in the working-class village Bolshiye Vyazemy in Moscow Oblast, land plots in St. Petersburg.  Part of the matters arose over the facts of theft of money upon the conclusion of contracts with ‘Expert’ Smetanova, for example, in the sale of shares in Moscow-based ‘Central Experimental Production Combine’ and stakes in ООО ‘436th Non-Metallic Minerals Combine’ in Leningrad Oblast.”

“‘Thanks to timely intervention we succeeded in preventing the illegal, in our view, disposition of the building of the directorate of trade of the Moscow Military District on Bolshaya Serpukhovskaya Street in Moscow, and also the oil transshipping complex in the village of Roslyakovo-1 in Murmansk Oblast,’ – GVSU Chief Sorochkin boasted to ‘Rossiyskaya gazeta.’  He also recalled that today the general amount of losses, suffered by the state in the ‘Oboronservis’ affair, exceeded four billion rubles.”

“Serdyukov’s Brother-in-Law Could be Called for Questioning”

“So, investigators tactfully sidestep the question of whether the appearance of new figures and still more accused in the ‘Oboronservis’ affair is expected.  There are already a number of candidates to populate the list.  For example, there’s Marina Lopatina, ex-chief of OAO ‘Voyentorg’ and the ‘Red Star’ subholding.  But also head of ‘Oboronstroy’ Larisa Yegorina.  Both ladies are thought to be former classmates of Vasilyeva and at present are alleged to be on the run.”

“There are suspicions that Serdyukov’s brother-in-law is also on the run, still, it’s true, investigators are not confirming this information.  ‘I don’t have unambiguous information about this.  I confirm that we have questions for him, therefore he could be interrogated,’ – Sorochkin said.”

“Petersburg’s ‘Fontanka’ relays interesting facts from Puzikov’s life.  ‘No stranger to the family furniture business, Puzikov managed to achieve notable commercial successes also in the automobile business and in construction, and the amount of property he’s acquired is striking,’ – the article’s author notes.”

“According to the publication’s information, the Kuban native Puzikov built an expensive development where his neighbor found a space for Serdyukov’s OAO ‘Furniture-Market’ (the former ‘Lenmebeltorg’).  At the same address nine companies, fully or partly controlled by Puzikov, appeared, for example, OOO ‘Avtotsentr Soyuz 021.’  The auto business generally attracted Puzikov’s attention, ‘Fontanka’ notes.  So, he owns 15% of OOO ‘Aksel Group’ – a large dealer of BMW, Volkswagen and Toyota automobiles, one of the showrooms of which is located in the very same expensive development.  Incidentally, also located there is OOO ‘Avtoservis-MM,’ where Viktor Zubkov, father of Serdyukov’s wife Yuliya Zubkova bought a Toyota Land Cruiser, ‘Fontanka’ writes.”

“The publication also reports that Puzikov together with Aleksandr and Petr Usov and Artur Pozov was involved in construction, and also bought up property in Leningrad Oblast.  According to YEGRYUL [Unified State Register of Juridical Persons] data, today limited liability companies ‘Alyans’ (until 2012 – ‘Furniture-Market’), ‘Petersburg Agricultural Corporation,’ ‘Contemporary Food Technologies,’ ‘Investproyekt,’ ‘KRIOS’ fully belong to Puzikov, he has shares in OOO ‘Novyy Megapolis,’ ‘TrestStroyKomplekt’ and ‘InterVal.’  An OOO with the classic name ‘Vektor-SPb,’ in which Puzikov was the only participant, no longer belongs to him, but the firm remained in the larger family [?!] of the ex-defense minister — now its owner is Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, ‘Fontanka’ concludes.”

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.

A Conscript’s Year

A Picture for Ufimtsev’s Demob Album

Young Komsomolskaya pravda (Chelyabinsk) journalist Sergey Ufimtsev returned from conscript service in May.  He recently published a cheerful, humorous account of time as a soldier.  He doesn’t regret his wasted year in the army.  But he describes an army that Serdyukov’s (and Putin’s) reforms have not changed substantially.  At least not his remote unit, and probably many others as well.

Ufimtsev drew his ill-fitting uniform items and was sent to Ussuriysk in the Far East.  He describes skimpy rations which left him hungry again an hour later.

Officers left Ufimtsev and other new soldiers largely in the hands of senior conscripts, the dedy.  They still exist despite the fact that one-year conscription was supposed to eliminate them.  Ufimtsev says dedy took their new uniforms and cigarettes, and threatened them at times.  But they weren’t really so bad.  He actually learned from the soldiers who’d been around for six months.

The non-Russians, Tuvans and Dagestanis, in the unit and their petty exactions were worse.  Even officers feared them, according to Ufimtsev.

He goes on to describe training in his air defense battalion.  He got bloody blisters from endless close-order drill, and finally received his unloaded AK-74, which he cleaned often but never fired.  It was kept with others under seven locks in the weapons storage room.

This is why Serdyukov didn’t want to buy new automatic weapons for the army.  It already has massive stockpiles of unused ones.

Ufimtsev says he and his cohorts were kept busy with non-military work.  Money to hire civilians into housekeeping jobs apparently hadn’t reached his unit.  His battery commander took most of their meager monthly personal allowance (about $13) to go to “the needs of the sub-unit.”  The soldiers, mostly farm boys or technical school graduates, wore lice-infested underwear and got to bathe once per month.  The situation improved some when a new major took command, according to Ufimtsev.

Ufimtsev’s article drew so many comments that it’s possible only to summarize.

A few readers were critical of today’s youth.  One called them dolts, who cry to mom and dad, and wimps, not defenders of the fatherland.  Another says real men should be silent about the privations of army life.

Many readers drew the obvious conclusion that the author’s experience shows Russia needs an all-volunteer army.

One reader said, in a couple of months at home, he could train soldiers better for less.  He asks, “What’s the sense in such an army?”  Several commentators remarked that generals’ complaints about a lack of money for recruiting career military professionals is a lie.

One reader put it in the context of Yevgeniya Vasilyeva and the Oboronservis scandal that brought down Anatoliy Serdyukov:

“No, they won’t do away with conscription.  There’s no money.  They lost their conscience in their 13-room apartments and can’t find it.  But then they never will.  They have to decide which of 120 diamond rings to wear today.  Therefore, there’s no money for a professional army, and there won’t be.  And so there will be an army of slaves — it’s so expedient and cheap.”