Russia's top government officials embroiled in criminal investigations over the past two decades
On March 26, Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee launched a felony case against former Open Government Minister Mikhail Abyzov, accusing him and five accomplices of stealing 4 billion rubles ($62.2 million) from energy companies in the Novosibirsk region and hiding the money abroad. Abyzov is just one of several top government officials to fall afoul of law enforcement over the past two decades. The newspaper Kommersant remembered some others from cabinets past, and Meduza summarizes that list below.
In 1997, the Russian Attorney General’s Office started investigating the embezzlement of $231 million allocated to the production of the MiG-29 fighter jet. Former Deputy Finance Minister Andrey Vavilov was a witness in the case, which officials closed after three years without ever going to court. In 2006, however, the case was reopened, and investigators accused Vavilov of committing fraud and abusing his authority at the Finance Ministry. In July 2008, by which point Vavilov was a senator in the Federation Council, the case was closed for good, with the statute of limitations expired.
Following an audit by Russia’s Accounts Chamber in 2001, officials opened a criminal case against Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who allegedly used state investment program money to buy apartments worth roughly half a million dollars. The next year, Aksenenko resigned, and he was soon charged with large-scale embezzlement and abusing his authority. The case was brought to court in October 2003, but Aksenenko died in 2005 from cancer, before the trial concluded.
In May 2005, at the request of the United States, police in Switzerland arrested Evgeny Adamov, the former head of MinAtom, Russia’s Atomic Energy Ministry. He was extradited to Russia later that year, where he was charged with fraud and abusing his authority in office. According to investigators, Adamov and his accomplices stole a 62-percent share of Russian-U.S. company Globe Nuclear Services and Supply (GNSS) and then signed an illegal contract forgiving $113 billion in debt for previously supplied nuclear materials. In 2008, Adamov was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, but this was later changed to probation. (The U.S. wanted Adamov for embezzling $9 million allocated by the U.S. Energy Department to help Russia improve security at its nuclear facilities.)
On November 15, 2007, police arrested Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak. According to investigators, during the restructuring of Algeria’s debt, Storchak added an extra $43.4 million to the amount of money owed to the company “Sodexim” (which bought some of the debt) through the Interregional Investment Bank. After 11 months in jail, Storchak was released on his own recognizance. In late January 2011, the investigation was closed “for lack of criminal evidence.” Throughout the case, Storchak never lost his job.
In October 2012, federal officials searched the offices of the military contractor “Oboronservis,” marking the start of an extensive investigation into the fraudulent sale of Defense Ministry property that cost the state an estimated 5 billion rubles (roughly $77.6 million, by today’s exchange rate). Within weeks, the scandal led to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s resignation. The key suspect in the case was Evgeniya Vasilyeva, the former head of the Defense Ministry’s Property Relations Department. Serdyukov was only a witness in her trial, though he was charged with criminal negligence in December 2013 (only to escape prosecution thanks to a presidential amnesty). In July 2018, journalists reported that Serdyukov and Vasilyeva had married, though the former defense minister refuses to verify the rumors.
On March 15, 2016, Federal Security Agents detained Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Pirumov on charges of embezzling funds allocated to the restoration of cultural heritage sites, including the Izborsk Fortress in Pskov. In October 2017, Pirumov was sentenced to 18 months in prison and freed in court for time served, though he was re-imprisoned in January 2019, when a judge increased his sentence to three years.
On November 14, 2016, Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev was arrested on charges of soliciting and accepting a $2-million bribe. In December 2017, he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison and fined 130 million rubles ($2 million). Ulyukayev allegedly demanded the money for facilitating the government’s approval of Rosneft’s acquisition of a stake in the oil company Bashneft. Read the closing statement he delivered in court before he was sentenced.