Police raid on Moscow love nest splits Putin’s inner circle

The Sunday Times

A dawn police raid at the luxury Moscow flat of the blonde director of a defence procurement agency at first seemed merely the latest in a long line of corruption scandals to hit the Russian government.

But when news broke that a bleary-eyed Anatoly Serdyukov, the defence minister, had opened the young woman’s front door when police came knocking, it became clear that this was altogether bigger news.

The titillating detail seemed to break the Russian media’s traditional refusal to delve into the private lives of politicians.

It appears that the scandal became public because Serdyukov, 50, is married to Yulia, the daughter of Viktor Zubkov, 71, a deputy prime minister, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and one of the most powerful men in Russia.

Serdyukov, who is reported to owe his meteoric rise from furniture salesman to minister to the influence of his father-in-law, incurred Zubkov’s wrath by allegedly having an affair with Yevgenia Vasilyeva — the official whose flat was raided — and in the process humiliating his daughter.

The case is mushrooming into an embarrassing scandal that may lift the veil on corruption, nepotism, selective justice and bitter Kremlin infighting under Putin’s rule.

Prosecutors searched Vasilyeva’s flat for several hours as part of a £60m fraud investigation into Oboronservis, a state-owned company that manages supplies to the armed forces. Vasilyeva, 33, who was until recently the head of the defence ministry’s vast property portfolio, is one of the company’s directors.

Officers from the prosecutor’s investigative committee said they had seized documents at her flat and confiscated more than £60,000 in cash plus antiques, paintings and hundreds of items of jewellery, including many diamonds. They also searched Oboronservis’s offices and have charged five people who, they allege, skimmed off large personal profits by using the company to sell state assets at far below their market value.

“There’s far more to this case than meets the eye,” said a former Kremlin aide. “No prosecutor would ever dare raid the flat of a cabinet minister’s alleged mistress unless he had orders from someone more powerful than the minister in question — because that would be the end of his career.”

Fuelling the conspiracy theories, the minister’s presence in Vasilyeva’s apartment in the early hours of the morning was first reported by Life News, a muckraking tabloid news site with close links to the police and the Kremlin. It has since been reported that Serdyukov owns a flat in the same building as Vasilyeva.

“He’s a grown man and has a right to a private life, not least as it is said that his relationship with Vasilyeva is a very serious one — they’re even said to want to start a family,” commented Moskovsky Komsomolets, Russia’s biggest-selling daily paper.

“Another matter entirely is that well-placed sources tell us there would be no scandal or searches at Oboronservis had the minister not had this relationship,” it added. “It is this private matter which is behind the story now being presented to us as a corruption probe.”

The paper described the scandal as a clash between two opposing factions, both with close ties to Putin. It claimed the minister’s relationship with Vasilyeva was regarded as an act of treason by his father-in-law. It quoted one source as saying that it had been explained to Serdyukov: “It’s one thing to have an affair but to dump your family is another thing altogether, one which could have most unpleasant consequences.”

On the day of the raid, Serdyukov rushed to the offices of Oboronservis, skipped a cabinet meeting and met Putin to plead for his job as speculation grew that he would be sacked.

Putin, said his spokesman, ordered the minister to co-operate with the police. Serdyukov was chairman of Oboronservis until last year and Vasilyeva was one of his closest aides.

The case has damaged the minister, who has faced criticism over painful military reforms that involved firing many officers and disbanding regiments. Serdyukov is said to be a capable manager and so far Putin has continued to back him.

Serdyukov was a furniture company director in St Petersburg when he married Yulia in 2000. They have a teenage daughter. His father-in-law, who was then the city’s head tax official, made him his deputy. When Zubkov was transferred by Putin to Moscow, Serdyukov followed and was appointed head of the revenue, a post he held until Putin made him defence minister in 2007.

Several tax officials who worked for Serdyukov have been accused of complicity in a £140m scam that was uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer, who was jailed and died in custody after reporting the fraud.

After Serdyukov became a minister the officials were given jobs in the defence industry — a move William Browder, a London-based financier who employed Magnitsky, described as “awfully suspicious”.

Others are worried by the injustice of the case. “The really detestable part is that Vasilyeva will probably go to jail,” wrote Yulia Latynina, a political commentator. “Not because she’s a thief, but because of her alleged relationship with Serdyukov.” микрозайм онлайн займы на карту без отказа https://zp-pdl.com/online-payday-loans-in-america.php https://zp-pdl.com/how-to-get-fast-payday-loan-online.php срочный займ на карту онлайн

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