Sun, Aug 29, 2010 - Page 6 News List

VIP road impunity sparks public outcry in Russia

AFP, MOSCOW

Roadside cameras mysteriously failed to record a fatal collision involving the car of a top oil executive. The daughter of a regional official escaped jail after her car ploughed into a busy sidewalk.

These are just two recent cases that have stirred public anger in Russia, as critics argue that police and courts turn a blind eye to road deaths involving the ruling elite.

In February, a chauffeur-driven Mercedes collided with a Citroen moving in the opposite direction on a Moscow highway, leaving two women dead in the Citroen.

It soon emerged that the Mercedes was the company car of a vice president of oil giant Lukoil, Anatoly Barkov, who was injured in the crash.

Traffic police initially said the Citroen’s driver lost control of her vehicle, but several people told Russian media they witnessed the crash on Leninsky Prospekt in southwestern Moscow and saw the Mercedes driving into oncoming traffic.

Prompting more suspicions, traffic police showed journalists security camera footage of the incident, in which the crash site was hidden behind an advertising hoarding.

The case inspired a rap song — “If you get in the way of my Mercedes, whatever happens/ You’ll be the guilty party in a traffic pile-up” — and a grass-roots protest movement, the so-called “Society of Blue Buckets.”

Frustrated critics stuck blue plastic buckets on their cars in parody of the blue flashing lights on officials’ cars, which allow them to speed and drive into oncoming traffic with impunity.

Russians vented fresh anger over the case last week when a leak from the ongoing investigation hinted that investigators were about to close the case, an ­allegation later denied by police.

“Who could have doubted the results of the probe? We know the law doesn’t apply to everyone in our country,” one reader, who gave her name as Lucy, wrote in response to an article in the liberal newspaper Trud.

“This crash received a lot of media attention, but how many others have been victims of untouchable, high-ranking persons?” another reader asked.

Scandal also surrounded a Siberian court’s decision this month to defer — for 14 years — a three-year jail sentence handed to the daughter of a prominent local official caught in a hit-and-run.

Outraged bloggers circulated videos of the horrific accident in the city of Irkutsk, showing the driver’s car plowing full-speed into a pavement and striking pedestrians.

One woman died, while a second was left permanently disabled by the incident.

The judge convicted the driver, Anna Shavenkova, 28, the daughter of the head of the local election commission, but he allowed her to defer her sentence to care for her young child. Another legal loophole means she is unlikely to ever be jailed.

Among the most controversial cases, the son of former defense minister Sergei Ivanov was cleared in 2005 of killing a 68-year-old woman who was using a pedestrian crossing.

That same year, the driver of a car involved in a fatal collision with the Mercedes of the governor of the Southern Siberian region of Altai, Mikhail Yevdokimov, was jailed for four years.

The ruling came even though the court recognized that the governor had been passing a car going 150kph in a 90kph zone.

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