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Third man is detained in a major bribery case that involves Russia’s deputy defense minister

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A third man has been detained in a bribery case involving a Russian deputy defense minister, Moscow’s court service said Thursday.

It said businessman Alexander Fomin is suspected of paying bribes to Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, who was detained on Wednesday, as well as Ivanov’s associate, Sergei Borodin. All of the men are to remain in custody until at least June 23.

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Ivanov, an ally of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, was jailed pending an investigation and trial on charges of bribery, court officials said in a statement. He was in charge of military construction projects and was previously accused of living a lavish lifestyle in anti-corruption investigations conducted by the team of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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Moscow’s court service said Fomin and Borodin contributed to Ivanov receiving a “particularly large bribe” — an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

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 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.”

Ivanov’s lawyer, Murad Musayev, told the state news agency Tass on Wednesday that his client is 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 by state news agency RIA Novosti as saying Wednesday 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.

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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.

Independent Russian news outlets reported Wednesday 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 dismissed the suggestion and described the reports as speculation. “There are a lot of rumors. We need to rely on official information,” he told journalists.

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

Before his arrest, Ivanov was seen attending a meeting with Shoigu and other top 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.

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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 buildings.

That same year, the team of opposition leader Navalny alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owned 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.

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

In April 2023, former Deputy Culture Minister Olga Yarilova was arrested and charged with embezzling more than 200 million rubles ($2.2 million). Yarilova, who held her post from 2018 to 2022, is on trial and facing a possible 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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