Russian army generals testify against ousted defense minister
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MOSCOW, March 14 - RAPSI. Several Russian Army generals have testified against ex-Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in the case of a large-scale property scandal that served to oust Serdyukov from his post and instigate a reshuffling within the Ministry last November, Izvestia newspaper reported Thursday.
Newspaper Kommersant reported on Wednesday that Serdyukov had finally begun to cooperate in the investigation into his alleged complicity in using Defense Ministry assets for the expensive renovation of a luxury summer house owned by his brother-in-law in the Astrakhan Region. The paper writes that he testified as a witness.
During five hours of questioning on Tuesday, Serdyukov was asked about the construction work at the Zhitnoye resort in the Volga River delta owned by Valery Puzikov, who is married to his sister.
Investigators believe that Serdyukov personally supervised construction work at the site, which was carried out by military personnel from a nearby air defense test site. They estimate the construction of a 6.7-kilometer (4.2 mile) road and landscaping work at around 15.5 million rubles (over $500,000) of public funds.
Serdyukov, who earlier described the home improvements as an "operational necessity," told investigators on Tuesday that the Zhitnoye resort's owners had promised to remunerate the servicemen who worked there with discounted vacations.
However, there were no reports of military personnel subsequently vacationing at the luxury resort, Kommersant said.
Izvestia then reported that those who testified against Serdyukov include former Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov and Astrakhan Region Governor Alexander Zhilkin.
Sources in the regional administration and law enforcement agencies said the generals and Zhilkin all alleged that Serdyukov was personally involved in the Zhitnoye project. According to Serdyukov's letter to Governor Zhilkin, dated December 8, 2010, he asked the regional authorities to allocate a plot of land for building a hunting-and-fishing center for the Defense Ministry.
A source in the prosecutor's office told Izvestia that investigators believe there were personal interest and profit motives in Serdyukov's actions, which violated several federal laws.
Serdyukov's attorney Genrikh Padva told Izvestia that the investigators have Zhilkin's and generals' testimony about his client's personal involvement in the construction of a road to the Zhitnoye resort. However, Padva believes that their testimony only confirm Serdyukov's innocence.
A criminal case involving the road project and Puzikov's summer house has been opened under an article on abuse of power. So far, it only involves "unnamed Defense Ministry officials."
The Zhitnoye resort is a popular VIP destination. Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev reportedly visited for a fishing trip in summer 2011. The former defense minister and his closest friends were the most frequent guests at the resort, which is also known as "a Defense Ministry dacha."
Serdyukov was dismissed last November amid investigation into suspected fraud totaling over 13 billion rubles ($433 million) from the illegal sale of ministry property involving the Oboronservice defense property services company.