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Russian Investigators Question Former Minister in Fraud Case

Russian investigators questioned a former agriculture minister over suspected fraud while she was head of a state-controlled leasing company.

Elena Skrynnik answered questions for more than five hours over the embezzlement of OAO Rosagroleasing funds intended for the agriculture industry in 2007-2009, Andrei Pilipchuk, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Moscow, said today by phone. The alleged 600 million-ruble ($20 million) fraud was masterminded by a local official, who’s now in hiding, together with senior Rosagroleasing managers, the Interior Ministry said by e-mail.

Skrynnik is the second high-ranking official to be caught up in a corruption scandal after Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was fired in November following a $133 million fraud probe that brought charges against several of his former subordinates.

Russia kept its ranking as the most corrupt of any Group of 20 nation, according to Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index published in December, placing it 133rd out of 176 countries, below Uganda and Nicaragua.

Russian state television accused Skrynnik in November of involvement in a $1.3 billion fraud. The Prosecutor General’s Office said three years earlier that it had uncovered “violations” in how Rosagroleasing spent 45 billion rubles of state funds when Skrynnik was head of the company, the country’s largest lessor of machinery to farmers.

Skrynnik, who was agriculture minister from 2009 to May 2012, denied the accusations in an interview from her home in France published Nov. 28 in Komsomolskaya Pravda. She hasn’t been charged with any crime and remains a witness in the case, said Pilipchuk.

“She is cooperating with the investigation,” he said.

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