Thu, Nov 09, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Prosecutor says corruption costing Russia billions

THE GUARDIAN , MOSCOW

Russia's army of bureaucrats are pocketing the equivalent of ?125 billion (US$238.7 billion) in kickbacks every year, according to the country's deputy prosecutor general.

In an interview published on Tuesday, Alexander Buksman said the scale of graft was close to equalling the state's entire annual revenues.

He said that police had discovered 28,000 cases of corruption in the first eight months of this year, a third of them connected to bribe-taking.

"The scale of bribes has reached such a level that within a year a mid-ranking corrupt bureaucrat can buy himself a 200m2 apartment," Buksman told the government-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

On average, property in Moscow costs ?2,165 a square meter, making an apartment that size worth more than ?420,000. Even senior officials have state salaries of less than ?1,000 a month.

The interview with Buksman was designed to promote government action against guilty chinovniki -- as bureaucrats are known -- but risked rousing public anger that the crime is flourishing.

Transparency International, an international monitoring group, estimates that corruption in Russia has grown sevenfold since 2001, the year after President Vladimir Putin came to power. In a survey published this week it ranked Russia 126 out of 159 in the world corruption stakes, on a par with Rwanda and Honduras.

"The situation is not only not getting better -- corruption is growing," said Elena Panfilova, head of Transparency International's Russia office.

During his state-of-the-nation address this year, Putin identified stamping out corruption as one of his priorities but daily life continues to be dominated by demands from state officials for cash payments.

Getting a child into school, passing a driving test and ensuring medical treatment are among the areas riddled with corruption. Businesses often set aside 10 percent of their earnings to pay off bribes.

While the chinovniki are despised, Russians show a surprising tolerance of bribe-taking because they know it is often the only way to get things done. However, the scale of cheating has led to the creation of organizations such as the Public Movement Against Corruption.

Buksman promised new checks on federal institutions in an attempt to bring corruption under control. He said the fact that many state officials were involved in profit-making enterprises was a factor in the level of crime.

"In many regions, bureaucrats are almost openly combining state or municipal service with commerce," he said.

He cited the head of Altai region's hunting control inspectorate, who was prosecuted after it was discovered that he also ran an agency organizing hunting trips.

Last year, the Indem think tank estimated that the average sum paid had risen to ?77,000, up from ?5,800 four years earlier.

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