Russia mired in corruption despite Kremlin pledge: watchdog

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Transparency International said Tuesday that Russia remained mired in corruption despite Kremlin vows to crack down on graft, placing it among the top 25 most-corrupt countries worldwide.

Releasing a closely watched global list of nations perceived to be the most corrupt, the group ranked Russia eight spots lower than last year, down from 146th to 154th place out of 178 countries.

Russia now finds itself near the same level as Kenya and Cambodia, and far behind such states as Columbia and Ethiopia.

The drop in Russia's ranking comes despite President Dmitry Medvedev's promise after his 2008 election to make fighting against corruption a top priority.

"We were expecting positive changes, because an anti-corruption campaign has been under way since 2008, and the authorities were saying all the right things. But the laws and the decrees are not working, the country is at an impasse," Elena Panfilova, the head of Transparency International's Russian branch, told a press conference.

"We cannot fight corruption with words. You can't use cosmetics to make-up a rotting corpse," she said, describing Russia's ranking as a "national embarrassment".

In the latest of a series of anti-corruption announcements, Russian authorities said Monday that hundreds of officials would be specially trained to create a "legal conscience" in the country's bureaucracy.

Medvedev has previously announced a vast reform of the country's security forces, widely considered among the government's most-corrupt bodies.

But despite the government's efforts, reports of paying bribes and embezzlement, for amounts ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars, continue to surface every week.

According to an investigation by the Independent Association of Lawyers for Human Rights released this year, corruption in Russia could be equal to as much as half of the country's gross domestic product.

Yuly Nisnevich, Transparency International's chief researcher in Russia, said corruption has become an inherent part of the country's political and economic system.

"A state has two possible means of ensuring its existence: either competition or corruption. For a country with Russia's ranking (in the global index), corruption is a foundation of the system," he said.

He said democratic reforms in Russia would be the only means of truly fighting against corruption.

"People who came to power on a wave of political corruption will never fight against corruption. As long as we have a 'managed democracy', nothing will change," he said, using a term favoured by the Kremlin for describing Russia's political system.

Few high-profile figures have been called to task for corruption, with the notable recent exception of former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, who was fired by the Kremlin last month and replaced with Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A series of muckraking documentaries shown on national television in September alleged that Luzhkov's policies had directly benefited his wife, billionaire construction mogul Yelena Baturina.

© 2010 AFP

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