Two more Russian officials arrested in widening military corruption probe


  • World
  • Thursday, 23 May 2024

FILE PHOTO: Lieutenant General Vadim Shamarin, deputy head of the army's general staff, is seen in this image on October 6, 2023. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

(Reuters) -Russia has arrested two more top figures - the deputy head of the army's General Staff and a senior procurement official at the defence ministry - in a widening bribery scandal, investigators said on Thursday.

The arrests of Lieutenant-General Vadim Shamarin and ministry official Vladimir Verteletsky raised the number of detained military and defence officials to five in the space of a month.

Three other men, including a former construction company boss suspected of paying bribes, have also been arrested, signalling a major effort to stamp out corruption surrounding the awarding of lucrative military contracts at a time when Russian forces are fighting in Ukraine.

Shamarin is accused of taking bribes between 2016 and 2023 from a factory in the Ural mountains that produces communications equipment, as a reward for placing bigger state contracts with it, Russia's Investigative Committee said. It said he had benefited to the tune of at least 36 million roubles ($400,000).

Shamarin, whose home was reportedly searched in connection with the investigation and who has been placed in pre-trial detention for two months, faces a prison term of up to 15 years if found guilty. State news agency TASS said he pleaded not guilty.

Shamarin has been in charge since 2020 of overseeing the army's Signal Corps, which is responsible for military communications, including ensuring confidential battlefield command signals.

Investigators said in a statement that Verteletsky, the senior procurement official, had been charged with abuse of authority in the execution of a state defence order. It said that in 2022 he had signed off on incomplete work that resulted in a loss to the state of over 70 million roubles ($764,000). It was yet clear how he pleaded.

The clampdown on high-level corruption began on April 23 when Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov was placed in pre-trial detention for suspected bribe-taking.

Since then, Lieutenant-General Yuri Kuznetsov, head of personnel at the defence ministry, and Major-General Ivan Popov, former commander of Russia's 58th army, have also been arrested.

The arrests are the biggest scandal to hit the Russian army in years and come at a time when it is has regained the initiative on the battlefield in Ukraine and has a new defence minister, economist Andrei Belousov, at its helm.

The appointment of Belousov, who has no army experience, was widely seen, among other things, as a move to eliminate wastage and corruption in defence spending. Sergei Shoigu, the previous minister, has been moved to become secretary of Russia's Security Council.

The Kremlin, which said it was not authorised to disclose details of the case, played down Shamarin's arrest and said similar anti-corruption work was being carried out across various Russian state agencies.

"The fight against corruption is consistent work," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "It is not a campaign, it is constantly ongoing work."

ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE

Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said Shamarin's arrest was the continuation of a sweeping shake-up among the army's top generals.

"The arrest of Shamarin, deputy chief of the General Staff, is not only an arrest, but also a large-scale audit of the work of the Main Communications (Signals) Directorate by the Audit Chamber," said Markov.

He said one of the probe's aims was to "increase the army's morale and equip the army with modern communications equipment and missile and artillery guidance systems".

An influential military blogger close to the defence ministry who goes by the name "Rybar" and has over 1 million followers, said the arrest and others like it were logical, but that investigators had probably sat on the alleged wrongdoing for a long time before acting.

Shamarin is a deputy to Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, who is managing the war in Ukraine. Gerasimov has not been accused of any wrongdoing, though he has at times faced harsh criticism over the performance of Russia's military since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, something Moscow calls a special military operation.

($1 = 90.0870 roubles)

($1 = 91.6205 roubles)

(Reporting by ReutersWriting by Andrew Osborn and Mark TrevelyanEditing by Frances Kerry)

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