* Serdyukov remains witness in $100-mln case
* To be questioned again on Jan. 11
* Female subordinate charged over suspect property deals
MOSCOW, Dec 28 Former Russian Defence Minister
Anatoly Serdyukov refused to answer questions from investigators
on Friday in a $100-million fraud case that has snowballed into
the biggest corruption scandal since President Vladimir Putin's
return to the Kremlin.
Serdyukov, who was fired by Putin on Nov. 6, remained silent
because his lawyer was unable to attend due to illness, Vladimir
Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said in a
He will be called in again for questioning on Jan. 11 and
remains a witness in a case that is seeking to prosecute his
former subordinate Yevgeniya Vasilyeva for fraud and
embezzlement over several deals involving Defence Ministry
The case, one of several sleaze scandals to flare up since
Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term as president in
May, has raised questions over how much Serdyukov knew about the
Vasilyeva was charged on Nov. 23 over a string of cut-price
deals in which prime real estate was allegedly sold off to
insiders at a loss to the taxpayer of at least 3 billion roubles
Serdyukov's relationship with Vasilyeva, 33, has also been
the subject of speculation after reports he opened the door to
police in his bathrobe and slippers when they launched an
early-morning raid in October on her Moscow apartment, which is
in the same building as his own.
The ex-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 his reported behaviour.
Serdyukov's lawyer, Genrikh Padva, told legal newswire Rapsi
that he had fallen ill and was unable to attend the questioning
at the Investigative Committee, Russia's equivalent to the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Padva is one of Russia's most renowned defence and human
rights lawyers, and previously represented Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
the oil tycoon jailed in 2005 for fraud. Khodorkovsky is
expected to walk free in 2014 after the sentence on a second
conviction was cut on appeal.
Khodorkovsky's oil company, Yukos, was bankrupted by a
series of controversial back-tax claims pursued by Russia's
Federal Tax Service, which was headed by Serdyukov from 2004
until 2007, when he was named defence minister.