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Analysis & Opinion
13.07.10 A Long Way To Go
By Tai Adelaja

Russia continues to make timid efforts to combat corruption even as it threatens to derail President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernization program, and experts say it would take at least a decade before such efforts could yield results.

State officials were barely able to fulfill less than half of the Council of Europe's recommendations on fighting corruption, handed to it by the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), the Council of Europe's anti-corruption body, the Vedomosti business daily reported on Monday, citing an unnamed official from the Kremlin. Moscow joined the group in 2007 and must submit a compliance report to GRECO this summer on a set of 26 recommendations it received in December 2008. A December 2008 report by the organization said that "corruption is a widespread systemic phenomenon in the Russian Federation."

However, the report sent by the Russian Prosecutor General's Office to GRECO showed that Russia implemented only 12 of the 26 recommendations put forward by the anti-corruption body, Vedomosti reported citing the official close to the Presidential Council on Fighting Corruption. Russia has to implement at least 18 recommendations in order to receive a good evaluation. Otherwise, it risks being negatively evaluated by GRECO because the organization is not interested in listening to promises, the paper wrote, citing the Kremlin official.

Among other measures, Russia approved a plan and strategy for fighting corruption and passed a law on countering corruption, while public activists were allowed broader participation in the president's anti-corruption council. Others include the introduction of criteria for hiring prosecutors, a law granting judges the right to contest their dismissal and another law granting the public wider access to information on the work of courts and state bodies. In all, six recommendations were not carried out at all, and eight were followed only partially.

Russia has not created administrative courts where citizens can appeal the actions of state authorities and organizations. The Prosecutor General's Office said the law remained in limbo after its first reading in the State Duma in 2000 because of opposition from the government and the presidential administration, the paper wrote. Vladimir Pligin, the chairman of the State Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee, said that it is impossible to pass the law in isolation, without addressing many other problems, organizational and financial. Corruption must be tackled from every direction, he said, and a legislative approach must be complex and watertight.

Russia also defaulted in other areas, including shortening the list of individuals who enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution, even though the Prosecutor's Office said prosecutors, investigators and regional deputies have been stripped of their immunity in 2008. A law that would limit the amount of gifts or presents a state official is entitled to receive has not been passed, but prosecutors wrote that they developed amendments to Article 575 of the Civil Code that let officials keep gifts worth up to 3,000 rubles (about $100). Anything more valuable would be handed over to the official's agency, Vedomosti wrote. The paper quoted a Kremlin official as saying that "It's absolutely impossible to imagine how these rules would work, for example, in the Caucasus. Unlike bribes, presents are not a serious problem."

In addition, officials failed to expand the list of offenses punishable with confiscation of property as requested by the EC anti-corruption body. Last month, the head of the Russian presidential administration Sergei Naryshkin ordered the Russian Justice Ministry and other official bodies to develop a new package of anti-corruption legislation that will include wider confiscation of property for all types of corruption crimes by May 12, and a law to prohibit officials from accepting gifts by May 30 next year. But the possibility of re-introducing confiscation of property as punishment for certain corrupt practices has touched on raw nerves in government circles, experts say. “There are as many opinions as there are officials on the issue of offences that should be punishable with confiscation of property,” Yelena Panfilova, head of Transparency International's Moscow office, said. “The on-going argument on what type of offenses should see perpetrators forfeit their property is making it very difficult for the government to move forward on the whole anti-corruption campaign.”

The Kremlin official cited by Vedomosti said the changes could not be implemented in a timely manner because of infighting within law enforcement agencies and a lack of political will to end the dispute. The dispute involves a conflicting procedure for the seizure of property by prosecutors on the one hand and the Ministry of Justice on the other. Prosecutors want to be able to seize property for fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement, money laundering, commercial bribery and giving bribes. The Justice Ministry proposed a more limited list, with money laundering, abuse of authority and receiving bribes as the top priority. Lawmakers might approve a Code of Ethics for civil servants, which Medvedev plans to announce during a meeting with the heads of regional legislatures on Wednesday, the Kremlin official said.

In his maiden speech to the Federal Assembly, President Dmitry Medvedev called corruption "modern society's Public Enemy No.1.” Shortly after his inauguration, he signed a decree to set up a presidential anti-corruption council and approved a plan to deal with the problem in July 2008, proposing that special units be created in every branch of government. Lately, both the Russian president and his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have called corruption a national threat and supported drastic measures to stem the practice. Putin said in Kislovodsk last week, albeit jokingly, that those guilty of corruption should be hanged. He hastened to add that this is not the method for Russia, asking instead that a package of anti-corruption laws initiated by president Medvedev should be effectively enforced.

But with an urgent need to modernize the economy and attract foreign investors, the issue of corruption is not only a challenge but a credible threat to Medvedev’s presidency. Panfilova said while political will is not lacking on the part of president Medvedev, the war against corruption is dragging on very slowly as many state officials struggle to guide against the introduction of any radical measure that could affect their interests. “All measures taken so far are geared towards ridding the system of corruption rather than identifying and bringing concrete offenders to book,” Panfilova said. “This is why concrete achievements have been modest, at best. At this rate, it will take 10 years to record success. One should take into account though, that at the inception of Medvedev's presidency, the number of instruments and mechanisms for fighting against corruption was zero. So any indicator above zero is already progress.”

Transparency International, the Berlin-based non-governmental anti-corruption organization has persistently rated Russia one of the most corrupt nations in the world. In the 2009 Corruption Perception Index, Russia was ranked 146th of 180, below countries like Togo, Pakistan and Libya. The United States was ranked 19th. A total of 4,500 corruption cases were brought to court in the first half of 2009 in Russia, with 532 public officials and 700 law enforcers convicted.
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