MOSCOW, August 28 (RAPSI) - Former Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is involved merely as a witness in the large-scale embezzlement case linked to defense contractor Oboronservis, and is not connected to the scandal in any other capacity, attorney Konstantin Rivkin told RAPSI Wednesday. 

It was revealed last October that five fraud cases had been initiated on the sale of property, land and shares belonging to Oboronservis, a holding company under the ministry's control. The losses involved were originally thought to be in excess of 3 billion rubles ($97.3 million). Later it was reported that the damages in the criminal cases have exceeded 6.7 billion rubles ($217.3 million). Serdyukov stepped down amid the scandal last November to ensure impartiality in the criminal investigations. He has been summoned several times for questioning. 

“He (Serdyukov) is a witness in the case,” Rivkin said, adding that the ex-defense minister is not linked to any other criminal case. 

Several Oboronservis employees were arrested. Yevgenia Vasilyeva, former CEO of the Defense Ministry's Property Management Department, has been put under house arrest on charges of being involved in the fraud scheme.

Since October, Russia’s defense sector has been rocked by a string of corruption scandals. In March the Investigative Committee reportedly opened a case over a land plot on the Black Sea which was allegedly sold by the ministry at a price discounted by over 56 million rubles ($1.86 million).

In March investigators started probing the suspected embezzlement of 102 million rubles ($3.3 million) by the head of a state-owned defense firm during the development of a space rocket system. The investigators say Alexei Varochko, head of the design bureau Motor, which manufactures equipment for the Russian space and defense industries, contracted a private firm, Industrial Technologies, to work on the development of a space rocket system without the agreement of the main contractor, and paid the firm 98 million rubles.

Earlier in August the Investigative Committee reportedly refused to open a criminal case against Serdyukov and and former head of the Education department of Defense Ministry Yekaterina Priezzheva. Priezzheva allegedly sponsored illegal purchase of furniture for Krasnodar Presidential Cadet School via her friend's company and asked Serdyukov to deliver the furniture using the funds of a charity foundation then headed by ex-minister. Moreover, she withheld from him information that another company could supply the furniture at a lower price, according to Kommersant daily.

Moreover, investigators are probing an alleged fraud over forest plot deal in Moscow Region sanctioned by Serdyukov in 2011 and 2012. The plot was sold for 2.9 billion rubles (approximately $88 million), which was half of its real price, according to the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office.