Russian ex-defense minister to be questioned in fraud case
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has been called in for questioning on Friday over a $100 million property fraud case, federal investigators and his lawyer said on Thursday.
Serdyukov, who was sacked by President Vladimir Putin on November 6, is not a suspect but a former subordinate, Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, has been charged with fraud and embezzlement in the case that has cast a spotlight on corruption in Putin's administration.
"Serdyukov has been called in for questioning by the Investigative Committee on Friday," Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the top investigative agency, as saying.
The case, one of several corruption scandals to flare since Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term as president in May, has raised questions over whether Serdyukov was aware of the suspected fraud.
Vasilyeva is suspected of involvement in a string of cut-price deals in which Defence Ministry property was sold off to insiders, at a loss to the Russian taxpayer of at least 3 billion roubles ($98 million).
Serdyukov's relationship with Vasilyeva, 33, has also been a target of speculation after reports that he was present when she was arrested in October in a raid on her Moscow apartment, which is in the same building as his own.
The ex-defence minister is the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, a long-time political ally of Putin. A source close to the government has said Serdyukov may have paid the political price for a breach of loyalty.
Serdyukov's lawyer, Genrikh Padva, was quoted as saying that he had met investigators and his client and discussed a series of questions in the case. In comments to Interfax, Padva did not elaborate on Friday's likely line of questioning.
He dismissed recent comments by case investigators that Serdyukov may have gone into hiding, describing them as an "ill-intentioned attempt to discredit him".
($1 = 30.5645 Russian roubles)
(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Roger Atwood)