MOSCOW, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Russian investigators raided the
offices of a defence ministry firm on Thursday and opened five
cases of fraud against the company, stepping up a crackdown on
multi-billion dollar corruption in the defence industry.
The investigative committee said 3 billion roubles ($96
million) was missing from the budget of state-owned military
contractor Oboronservis, which it blamed on officials selling
property to commercial firms at prices below the market rate.
Russia is the world's second largest arms exporter, and its
defence industry has been strengthened by President Vladimir
Putin's plans to increase spending to modernise the military.
But the sector is plagued by corruption. Last year chief
military prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said a fifth of the state's
defence budget was stolen each year by crooked officials,
generals and contractors - an annual theft of around $10
"Today, as part of the criminal cases, investigators are
conducting searches and seizures of documents at Oboronservis,
(and) questioning the officials," the Investigative Committee
said in a statement on its website on Thursday.
Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who served as chairman
of board of directors at Oboronservis until 2011, was present at
the firm's offices as the raid took place and offered his
support to investigators, Interfax news agency reported.
Putin appointed Serdyukov as defence minister following his
return to the Kremlin in May, with a remit to overhaul the armed
forces and restructure the bloated defence industry. Russia's
investigative committee, often referred to as the Russian FBI,
answers directly to Putin.
"Any public announcements about the size of the losses and
the participation of any officials of the holding Oboronservis,
are no more than potential scenarios until the investigation is
complete," Interfax reported Serdyukov as saying.
Oboronservis, which was created in September 2008, is
responsible for ensuring all the needs of the Russian army are
met - from heavy machinery to food and educational materials.
Russia allocated more than 1.5 trillion roubles ($48
billion) for national defence in its 2011 budget, and Putin last
year promised to inject the defence budget with 23 trillion
roubles ($734 billion) over the next decade.
($1 = 31.3217 Russian roubles)
(Reporting By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Editing by Thomas Grove
and Rosalind Russell)