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How to steal 60 million Former Defense Ministry official gets 5-year sentence and walks free, 4 months later

Meduza
10:52, 26 august 2015

Photo: Dmitry Korotaev / Kommersant

One of Russia’s highest-profile corruption trials took a new turn on August 25, when former Defense Ministry official Evgeniya Vasilyeva was freed from prison on parole. In May 2015, Vasilyeva was sentenced to five years in jail for real estate fraud that cost the government roughly 3 billion rubles (about $60 million) in damages. At first, Vasilyeva’s trial, which attracted extensive coverage by Russia's state-controlled media, and her subsequent prison sentence looked like a serious campaign by the Kremlin to tackle corruption in the government. Now, the ex-official is free after fewer than four months behind bars.

What was her crime?

Vasilyeva (36) was convicted of eight separate instances of criminal activity—all committed while she worked for the Defense Ministry. The scandal around her activities began in 2012, when investigators uncovered a huge scheme involving the sale of Defense Ministry real estate at below-market prices in exchange for bribes. The money laundering was done through a company called Oboronservis, which was headed by Vasilyeva and controlled by the Defense Ministry to handle property sales.

Before she became head of Oboronservice, Vasilyeva worked as an advisor to former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. The two were romantically involved, even though Serdyukov is married to the daughter of Viktor Zubkov, a former deputy prime minister and close ally of President Vladimir Putin. The scandal around Vasilyeva ended Serdyukov’s career, though the investigation into his involvement in the corruption scheme ended when Putin granted him amnesty in March 2014. Serdyukov appeared as a witness in Vasilyeva’s trial and denied that she had caused any harm. Vasilyeva also maintained her innocence.

What happened to her punishment?

In May 2015, a judge issued an unexpectedly harsh prison sentence to Vasilyeva. She was given five years in jail, despite the prosecution’s request to give her a suspended sentence of eight years. At first, Vasilyeva’s lawyers filed an appeal against the ruling, but quickly withdrew it. There was speculation in the media that Vasilyeva was hoping to get released early on parole, instead.

On August 25, a Russian court ruled to release Vasilyeva on parole. Her lawyers say she has paid full compensation for the losses suffered by Russia’s Defense Ministry. Defense Ministry Representatives confirmed that they will leave the decision about Vasilyeva’s parole to the courts. Even the Federal Penitentiary Service released a favorable statement about Vasilyeva, saying the former official complied with all prison regulations, made friends with other prisoners, and completed “an individual psychological correctional program,” after which “the likelihood of relapse is very low.” She served less than 4 months in jail.

But not everyone is convinced that Vasilyeva was a model prison inmate. On July 30, the news website RAPSI reported that Vasilyeva was spotted at a bank in downtown Moscow. In response to the media outcry that followed, various officials each gave their own information about Vasilyeva’s whereabouts.

A Public Monitoring Committee representative announced on July 31 that Vasilyeva had been sent to a prison colony in the Vladimir region. Yet officials working at the Vladimir prison neither denied nor confirmed that Vasilyeva was at their facility. Meanwhile, a Moscow city court maintained that Vasilyeva could not be at a regional prison, since her sentence had not yet officially begun. On August 1, amid the frantic search for Vasilyeva conducted by journalists and activists, parliament members appealed to the Federal Penitentiary Service, asking for an official statement on Vasilyeva’s whereabouts.

Where did she go?

On August 4, the Federal Penitentiary Service finally told the press that Vasilyeva was being held at a prison in Russia's Vladimir region. They also claimed that she did not wish speak with journalists. On August 12, Public Monitoring Committee representative Anton Tsvetkov reported on his Facebook page that Vasilyeva was allegedly working as a janitor in a local school as part of her sentence. Tsvetkov noted that school was out for the summer and the school building stood empty.

There's nothing new about Vasilyeva’s strange antics. During her trial in 2014, she regularly made headlines for her outlandish behavior and glamorous lifestyle. She released a bizarre music video titled Slippers, starring herself. The title of the song reportedly refers to the slippers worn by her ex-lover and Russia's former defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, when police officers raided her home and found him present. The video came out in October 2014 and has attracted more than 2.3 million views since then.

Evgeniya Vasilyeva — Slippers
Evgeniya Vasilyeva

During her trial, Vasilyeva also began trying her hand as an artist, actually putting on exhibitions of her work. She even painted a portrait of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny. The Russian public will no doubt be eager to see what new hobbies the ex-official takes up now that she is out of jail.