Russia Update: Defense Ministry Official Jailed for Corruption, Released Early

August 25, 2015
Evgeniya Vasiyeva leaving Women's Colony No. 1 in Vladimir Region with lawyers on August 25, 2015. Photo by Vladimir Sergeyev/RIA Novosti

Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a former Defense Ministry employee sentenced to 5 years of prison in a high-profile corruption scandal in the ministry, was released from confinement today after her sentence was reduced for good behavior.

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Defense Ministry Official Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, Sentenced for Corruption, Released Early for ‘Good Behavior’

Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a former Defense Ministry employee sentenced to 5 years of prison in a high-profile corruption scandal in the ministry, was released from confinement today after her sentence was reduced for good behavior, reported.

Vasilyeva, the former head of Department of Property Relations of the Defense Ministry, was among the lead suspects in a long-running corruption case involving the scamming of apartments intended for soldiers. She was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to five years of prison in May 2015, with her time under house arrest before the trial already counting as half of the sentence served.

Vasilyeva was held at Women’s Colony No. 1 in the town of Golovino in Vladimir Region. All told, she served only 34 days in the colony, and had 2 years, 2 months and 28 days remaining to serve on her sentence, reported, citing TASS.

But she underwent a “personality corrections” program and was then eligible for conditional early release (known by the initials “UDO” in Russian) upon a court appeal. The Sudogodsky District
court in Vladimir Region accepted her lawyer’s petition and ruled she could be freed, a decision that normally would go into effect after 10 days, reported.

Authorities said they saw no reason why she should be kept
longer, however, and allowed her to go. She was picked up by lawyers who traveled
in a black Toyota Camry and black Toyota Land Cruiser with tinted
windows, pictures of which were published in the Russian media.

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She refused to speak to reporters, but her father later said in an
interview with that first of all, she planned to recover her
health, which was harmed during imprisonment.

While in prison, Vasilyeva continued to get a lot of press
coverage, with the independent press in particular noting the contrast
between the conditions she experienced and those of other less-favored
or opposition prisoners.

Her release today with half her sentence remaining contrasted sharply with the sentencing in Russian-occupied Crimea of Oleg Sentsov, an accomplished Ukrainian film maker, and his
co-defendent, well-known Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, to lengthy terms on charges of terrorism — charges which many
in the international community are calling politically motivated.

Despite the magnitude of the fraud cast and cost of stolen goods,
Vasilyeva was given standard-regimen prison rather than strict-regimen.

Just last week, human rights advocate Andrei Babushkin, a monitor
of prison conditions, visited her in the women’s colony and found she
had been assigned to watering flowers at a school where she was given a
job as a janitor, reported.

This was much lighter work on a less-strict schedule than usually
given prisoners; the Pussy Riot prisoners, for example, were assigned to
sew burlap bags or work-gloves for long hours every day under poor

Vasilyeva’s living conditions were also considerably better; she
was keptĀ  with 6 others in a cell that had 8 single beds; often in such
prisons there are 70 to a room with two-story bunkbeds used.

Vasilyeva was rumored to be missing from the prison and even seen
in Moscow, but later a Duma deputy following the case said she was
meeting with her lawyers in the prison at the time.

The Interpreter began covering the Oboronservis case, named for the company involved, in 2013 when we were founded. Serdyukov, the minister of defense at the time, was amnestied in 2014 and it was felt that Vasilyeva, a striking blonde believed to be his mistress, was unfairly taking the rap.

Thus she gained both sympathy and ridicule from the Russian public and was constant fodder for the tabloids.

An article published in the Atlantic on January 29, 2013 by Michael Weiss, The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief, gives a flavor of the case:

The Serdyukov downfall, which has been covered extensively in the
Russian and international press, broke in November when Yevegeniya
Vasileyva, the Defense
Minister’s blonde and pouty 33-year old mistress, was charged with
fraud related to more than $100 million in stolen funds from
Oboronservis, the
ministry-owned military real estate company owned of which Vasileyva
was a director and Serdyukov the chairman up until a year ago. Russia’s
Committee, which is tantamount to the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, alleges that Vasileyva liquidated state assets at
drop-down prices in order to pay
kickbacks to government officials. It certainly didn’t help that
when police raided her 13-room apartment in downtown Moscow, they
discovered Serdyukov
there, dressed in his bathrobe. Over $1 million in jewelry, cash,
antiques and 19th-century artwork confiscated from the Ministry’s museum
were recovered.
Vasileyva is now under house arrest, yet may have had the conditions
of her confinement lessened, said now to include occasional visits by
Serdyukov. (The
Russian press has made the most of its fallen cabinet official’s clear
tastes, nicknaming the women he surrounded himself with the ” Amazons.”)

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick