A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges

A Russian deputy defense minister in charge of military construction projects and accused of living a lavish lifestyle was ordered jailed Wednesday pending an investigation and trial on charges of bribery, court officials said in a statement.

Timur Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defense ministers, appeared in Moscow’s Basmany court Wednesday wearing his military uniform. The ally of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was arrested Tuesday evening, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The committee gave no further information, apart from saying Ivanov is suspected of taking an especially large bribe — an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The Kremlin rejected some Russian media reports that Ivanov was suspected of treason.

Ivanov, 48, was sanctioned by both the United States and European Union in 2022 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

According to a court statement, investigators told the judge that Ivanov had conspired with third parties to receive a bribe in the form of unspecified property services “during contracting and subcontracting work for the needs of the Ministry of Defense.”

An acquaintance of Ivanov’s, identified as Sergei Borodin, also was arrested and ordered jailed pending an investigation and trial on the same charges, court officials said. Both men are to remain in custody until at least June 23.

Ivanov’s lawyer, Murad Musayev, told the state news agency Tass that his client is being accused of “taking a bribe in the form of free construction and repair work on supposedly his personal properties,” and in turn providing “assistance to companies that were contractors for the Defense Ministry.”

Another lawyer, Denis Baluyev, was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti that Ivanov maintains his innocence.

According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.

Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin were informed of Ivanov’s arrest, which comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine grinds through its third year.

Peskov dismissed Russian media reports that the corruption allegations against Ivanov were intended to obscure additional allegations of high treason.

Independent Russian news outlet reported that the bribery charges were intended to hide more serious charges of treason and avoid scandal, citing two unidentified sources close to the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Peskov described the reports as speculation. “There are a lot of rumors. We need to rely on official information,” he told journalists.

Ivanov’s lawyer Musayev also denied any other charges, telling RIA Novosti he faced only bribery allegations.

Before his arrest, Ivanov was seen attending a meeting with Shoigu and other military brass. The move against Ivanov came nearly a month after Putin called on the FSB to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.

Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war.

Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.

That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate. The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.

Commenting on Ivanov’s case, Navalny’s ally Maria Pevchikh said on social platform X: “It’s a good day today.”

The prosecution of high-level officials for corruption remains relatively rare in Russia.

The most recent arrest in April 2023 saw former Deputy Culture Minister Olga Yarilova charged with embezzling more than 200 million rubles ($2.2 million). Yarilova, who held her post between 2018 and 2022, is on trial and facing a seven-year jail term.

Former Economics Minister Alexei Ulyukayev received an eight-year prison sentence in 2017 for accepting a $2 million bribe from one of Putin’s top associates. The high-profile trial was widely seen as part of infighting between Kremlin clans. Ulyukayev, now 68, was granted early release from prison in May 2022.

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