Russia's anti-corruption campaign nets small fry
Scandal and corruption still rub do-gooder politics the wrong way in Moscow, despite efforts and campaigns aiming to break the stereotype and rid the reputation of an unsafe Russian capital.MOSCOW -- A string of highly publicised scandals in Russia has highlighted the extent of corruption in law enforcement agencies and local government, but top officials remain untouched by probes, experts say.
In recent cases, a mayor was accused of heading a criminal gang, a state investigator was jailed for extortion and two policemen were imprisoned for extorting a bribe to free a suspect.
"Corruption is the most profitable business in Russia, worth an estimated 300 billion dollars per year," Kirill Kabanov, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, an NGO, told AFP.
President Dmitry Medvedev made the fight against corruption one of his campaign goals in 2008 but recently admitted that he did not see "any significant success".
In his annual address on Tuesday he lamented that "even the threat of spending twelve years behind bars does not stop bribe-takers," and proposed to introduce a fine up to 100 times the bribe in some cases.
The damage to its international image was illustrated by a leaked US memo revealed by WikiLeaks in which a Spanish prosecutor called Russia a virtual "mafia state" whose political parties operate "hand in hand" with organised crime.
Corruption "has become a very serious problem that is destroying the state, that is destroying the authorities," said Yuly Nisnevich, chief researcher at anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in Moscow.
The interior ministry on Monday announced the arrest of a former official at the Control Department under Medvedev, which checks the legal compliance and economic efficiency of state agencies.
The ex-official is suspected of extorting bribes from foreign businessmen in Russia by promising to help them gain state contracts to supply medical equipment.
The investigative committee of the state prosecutor's office arrested the mayor of a district in the Saratov region, suspected of heading a criminal gang that committed serious crimes on his orders, including a murder.
A former investigator was sentenced to three years prison in Moscow for having extorted nearly EUR 3 million from a company owner. Two policemen in Saint Petersburg were recently sentenced to two years in jail for extorting a much smaller sum of EUR 1,250 in exchange for freeing a suspect.
Official attempts to fight corruption, including highly publicised arrests, look more like publicity stunts than effective measures, said Nisnevich.
"These are not measures that would turn around the situation, they are just for show," he said.
The targets are petty bureaucrats, rather than top officials, who are effectively immune from prosecution, he said.
"Of course, when we are talking about bribes of millions of dollars, it's clear that a small department chief cannot be the only person responsible," said Kabanov.
"It's now a thing of the past for people to extort bribes by asking for great sacks of cash to be brought to their office," he said. "Of course it's better than doing nothing. But these are cosmetic measures. They cannot change the situation."
The fight against corruption promoted by the Kremlin has remained an unfulfilled promise, according to Transparency International, which in October placed Russia among the 25 most corrupt countries in its annual rating.
Maria Panina / AFP / Expatica