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Russia detains ally of Defence Minister Shoigu for alleged corruption

Published 04/24/2024, 05:20 AM
Updated 04/24/2024, 09:16 AM
© Reuters. Russian Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of a water intake facility on the Belbek River in Crimea, in this handout picture released January 21, 2021. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Guy Faulconbridge and Darya Korsunskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) -A Russian court on Wednesday ordered one of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu's deputies be kept in custody on suspicion of taking bribes, the highest-profile corruption case since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in 2022.

Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov was detained on Tuesday at work by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, for accepting large bribes.

Moscow's Basmanny District Court ordered Ivanov be kept in custody until June 23. Ivanov, 48, was shown in uniform standing in a glass cage in court, frowning slightly, footage released by the court service showed.

"The investigation believes that Ivanov entered into a criminal conspiracy with third parties, teamed up with them in advance to commit an organised crime by an organised group," the court service said.

It said the conspiracy was to receive "property and services on a particularly large scale during contract and sub-contract work for the ministry of defence."

Ivanov, who said he was innocent, faces 15 years in jail if convicted. State media gave the case full coverage.

The sudden arrest of an ally of Shoigu, who Putin tasked with fighting the war in Ukraine, triggered speculation about a battle within the elite and of a public crackdown on the corruption that has plagued Russia's post-Soviet armed forces.

Some Russian bloggers, who have accused senior generals of incompetence, rejoiced at the apparent fall of a top military official long linked to the ostentatious opulence which Putin has made clear he does not want to see displayed in wartime.

A Russian source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ivanov was a close ally of Shoigu and that his arrest was a sharp blow for the defence minister. Shoigu, a Putin ally and one of Russia's most powerful men, is widely expected to keep his position in a coming government reshuffle.

The Kremlin said Putin and Shoigu had been informed. The defence ministry made no comment. A close friend of Ivanov, Sergei Borodin, was also charged with conspiring to take bribes.

OSTENTATIOUS WEALTH

Ivanov, who has served as deputy minister since 2016, was in charge of property management, housing, construction and mortgages at the defence ministry, whose spending has spiralled since the war began.

The TASS state news agency said the investigation into Ivanov has been under way for some time and that the FSB's military counter-intelligence department was involved.

The Kremlin dismissed a Russian report that Ivanov may be suspected of treason as pure speculation.

Ivanov had long been the subject of journalistic investigations. Russia's Anti-Corruption Foundation, headed by the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, had alleged that Ivanov and his family lived a life of luxury including yachts, helicopters, visits to the French Riviera, purchases of diamonds and a 19th Century mansion in Moscow.

Forbes magazine listed Ivanov as one of the wealthiest men in Russia's security structures. Other investigations alleged corruption in Russia's reconstruction of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol now controlled by Russian forces.

Ivanov was unable to comment as he was in detention. Putin last month ordered the FSB to root out corruption in state defence procurement.

Ivanov, who graduated with from Moscow State University with a mathematics degree, rose through the ranks of Russia's state atomic energy sector before becoming deputy head of the Moscow region government under Shoigu, who was then governor.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Some Russian military bloggers have long accused top generals of corruption, especially after the army's hurried withdrawal from parts of Ukraine after over-extending itself during the first days of the invasion.

"It is clear that this is a tectonic shift," said Yuri Podolyaka, a popular pro-Russian military blogger. "And this is not about Ivanov... I hope this is only the beginning."

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