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?