In the wake of President Dmitry Medvedev’s decree setting up a presidential anticorruption council to draw up a national anticorruption program (see EDM, May 21), a number of observers, including politicians, experts and journalists, have weighed in with their ideas on how best to get at what may be Russia’s oldest and most deeply-rooted problem.
State Duma Legislative Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov, who served as justice minister in 1998 and 1999, is a longtime associate of Medvedev, and played a key role in his election campaign. He shared his thoughts about the anticorruption drive in an interview with Vedomosti. “I am convinced of one thing: the fight against corruption does not lie in an increase in the length of prison terms for citizens,” Krasheninnikov told the newspaper. “The point should be changes in economic legislation, in particular, in connection with state purchases [and] the sale of municipal property. Wherever the state intervenes in the economy, there will necessarily be corruption unless there is extremely minute regulation of all procedures. Every step taken by a state official who makes decisions in a given sphere should be prescribed” (Vedomosti, May 22).
While the specifics of the national anticorruption campaign will be detailed in a month, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has already said that a number of harsh punitive measures would be introduced, including the confiscation of property of those found guilty of corruption (The Moscow News, May 22). Asked whether he thought confiscation of property would help the anti-corruption drive, Krasheninnikov said, “Confiscation in and of itself is a corrupt thing. It raises questions: What is to be done with the confiscated property? Won’t we be opening yet another loophole for unprincipled bankruptcy? Besides, the presumption of innocence should not be forgotten. If the violator has caused damage to a person or a corporation, this must be proven [and] the sum of the damages determined precisely. The confiscation [of property] from persons involved in terrorist activities is one thing, but Soviet confiscation, the revival of which is being proposed, is a relic” (Vedomosti, May 28).
Dmitry Orlov, General Director of the Political and Economic Communications Agency, a consulting group, said that to overcome deep-seated public skepticism, Medvedev needed to portray himself as a “hero,” as the “victor over the hydra of corruption” and therefore needed “concrete examples in the fight against corruption.” This could be achieved by targeting “prominent figures” who are well-known nationally. In addition, Orlov said that the anti-corruption drive should focus on reducing corruption in agencies that regulate small and medium-sized businesses as well as those that affect the public at large, such as Russia’s traffic police.
Medvedev said that a key component of the anticorruption program would be the promotion of ethical standards against corruption through the mass media and non-governmental organizations. Apparently to that end, he met on May 26 with Vsevolod Bogdanov, the head of Russia’s Union of Journalists. Bogdanov was quoted as saying that the country’s media had to step up reporting on corruption as part of the president’s anticorruption drive, but he also highlighted the difficulties that Russian journalists faced in doing their job. “There are a lot of problems, in particular murders of journalists, and the fact that we often have complex relations with the authorities,” Bogdanov said (RIA Novosti, May 26).
Indeed, some observers have suggested that Medvedev could prove his anticorruption bona fides by pushing for a resolution of the case of Yury Shchekochikhin, the veteran investigative reporter who worked as a deputy editor of Novaya gazeta and a State Duma deputy and died mysteriously in 2003. Shchekochikhin’s relatives and colleagues believe he was poisoned (see EDM, May 21).
“One of the last cases that Yury Shchekochikhin was involved in in his capacity as a journalist and a State Duma deputy was the Tri Kita case [involving alleged contraband and money-laundering activities by high-level officials through several Moscow furniture outlets],” wrote Ekho Moskvy radio journalist Natella Boltyanskaya. “Shchekochikhin directed several inquiries to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the FSB, the State Customs Committee and the MVD. He received serious documents testifying to the fact that the case was not limited to contraband. At issue was the laundering of millions of dollars through the Bank of New York and, possibly, arms sales. It turned out that both former and active and highly placed officials of Russia’s special services, as well as people from the presidential administration, were involved in the affair.”
Boltyanskaya noted that Shchekochikhin, who received death threats aimed at both him and his son, met in Moscow with representatives of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in June 2003 to discuss the Tri Kita case and its alleged connection to money laundering through the Bank of New York. He also planned to travel to the United States for further discussion of the case and, according to Boltyanskaya, had already received a U.S. visa and the names of U.S. law-enforcement officials to meet with. Shchekochikhin died from a sudden and rapidly progressing illness on July 3, 2003.
“Perhaps, the president has simply forgotten about Shchekochikhin,” wrote Boltyanskaya. “Thus I am reminding Mr. Medvedev so that … he’ll remember Shchekochikhin’s death and the case he [Shchekochikhin] did not see through to the end” (www.ej.ru, May 27).