Highest-Ranking Russian Corruption Suspect Amnestied

MOSCOW, March 7 (RIA Novosti) – A case against Russia’s former defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, who was implicated in a corruption scandal, was ended on amnesty earlier this year, his lawyer said late Thursday.

The defense team and investigators made a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to make the amnesty public at the time because of the Sochi Olympics, Genrikh Padva said.

The move was to avoid “overexciting the public,” Padva said at a session of the Moscow City Bar Association.

“It was better to end this case quietly. The Olympics were about to start, everyone was busy with them, nobody cared about us. We decided that extra publicity would only do harm,” Padva said.

Padva explicitly denied those comments on Friday, however, calling reporters “rascals.” But legal news website RAPSI – part of the RIA Novosti holding – has an audio recording of the comments.

Serdyukov, 52, was the most high-profile target of an anti-corruption campaign that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched after the 2012 elections.

Putin gave the Defense Ministry’s top job to the former furniture dealer and tax official in 2007, tasking him with improving efficiency and reducing corruption.

But in 2012, the Investigative Committee, which is directly subordinate to the president, launched a string of criminal cases against Serdyukov and his affiliates.

The suspects were accused of causing damages to the state worth a combined 6.7 billion rubles ($185 million), mainly through fraud on infrastructure maintenance contracts.

But Serdyukov, who was sacked in late 2012, was only implicated in a single case on negligence charges, punishable with up to three months in prison or a year of punitive labor.

Several of Serdyukov’s former affiliates are still under investigation. It remained unclear whether they are eligible for the same amnesty, declared by Putin last year.

Russia was 127th of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2013, up six places year-on-year.

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