Moscow: Russia opened a criminal case against former defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov, the most senior official to be fired over corruption by President Vladimir Putin.

Serdyukov has been charged with criminal negligence, which carries a maximum sentence of three months in prison or a year’s community service under the Russian criminal code, according to a website statement on Thursday by the Investigative Committee.

The former minister, who steered Russia’s biggest defence revamp since the Cold War, is accused of causing damages of 56 million rubles ($1.7 million) to the state budget, the law- enforcement agency said. Serdyukov issued verbal orders to use government funds to build a road in the southern Astrakhan region and deploy conscripts to carry out landscaping and other services in the area. The road was only usable by a private, non-commercial organization, according to the statement.

“This seems like a way to bring a convenient end to this affair," said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent Moscow-based political analyst, predicting that Serdyukov will avoid prison. The former minister owed his dismissal to rivalry with powerful security and military officials who opposed his efforts to rein in defence spending, according to Oreshkin.

The former minister’s lawyer, Genrikh Padva, has said his client denies any wrongdoing. Padva was at a court hearing and unavailable to comment further on the case when Bloomberg called his office on Thursday.

Serdyukov’s ouster

Putin ousted Serdyukov as defence minister in November last year. The following month, the president ordered cabinet members and their families to file personal-spending declarations, tightening oversight of officials in Russia, the lowest-ranked of the Group of 20 economies in Berlin-based Transparency International’s corruption perception ranking.

“If the authorities were serious about combating corruption, they would have to throw in jail three-quarters of top Russian officials," said Oreshkin.

Serdyukov is also a witness in a separate criminal case involving three of his former subordinates who were arrested late last year and charged over the sale of 4 billion rubles of property by OAO Oboronservis, a supplier of goods and services to the army.

Serdyukov was summoned to appear in front of the investigators tomorrow as a witness, with his defence team requesting a postponement to next week, RIA Novosti reported on Thursday, citing his lawyer.

The former minister was appointed as head of a machine-building research center that is part of the state-run Rostec holding group this month. Rostec said on Thursday that it’s aware of the charges against Serdyukov and expects judicial authorities to conduct the case appropriately, according to a website statement. Bloomberg

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