Moscow launches probe into Mercedes purchases
Russia said Friday it was probing the fraudulent purchase of Mercedes cars by state officials following allegations that the company had paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure the sale.
A lawsuit filed in March by the US Justice Department said that Daimler, owner of the Mercedes-Benz brand, paid some four million dollars in bribes to Russian government officials to secure sales.
While the scandal resulted in the German automaker paying 180 million dollars to settle the dispute, it has received little attention in Russia.
Nearly eight months after the bribery lawsuit, Russia's investigative committee of prosecutors said it has "opened a criminal case into fraud occurring in the delivery contracts of Mercedes-Benz cars."
The brief statement did not clarify which purchases and government officials were under investigation or provide any other details.
The lawsuit's list of alleged bribe-takers included the Russian interior ministry and the Federal Guard Service's garage unit, which provides cars for all prominent federal officials and visiting foreign heads of state.
Government officials received bribes in bank transfers and cash from Daimler's Russian subsidiary from 2000 to 2005, the prosecutors alleged.
Officials found guilty of fraud could face up to 10 years in prison.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev has declared fighting corruption one of his top priorities, ordering an investigation into the bribery accusations in April this year.
© 2010 AFP