Ex-north Ossetian Law-enforcer Describes Endemic Corruption

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 83

In his September 4 address to the nation concerning the Beslan tragedy, President Vladimir Putin cited the corrosive effect that corruption has had on the country’s judicial and law-enforcement systems as one of the reasons for the wave of terrorism sweeping Russia. On September 11, he removed North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev, who had already tendered his resignation, along with the head of the republic’s Federal Security Service (FSB) branch, Valery Andreyev (Itar-Tass, September 11). The following day, Colonel Soslan Sikoev was named the republic’s acting Interior Minister (Interfax, September 12). Meanwhile, a former high-ranking official in North Ossetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and tax police has detailed the effect corruption has had on law-enforcement in that republic and how this may have facilitated the terrorists who seized Beslan’s School No. 1.

Batraz Takazov served in North Ossetia’s MVD from 1973 to 1992, after which he worked in the tax investigation department of the republic’s Main Tax Inspectorate. From 1993 to 1999 he was a deputy head and then first deputy head of the Federal Tax Police for North Ossetia. Before retiring in 2003, he served in the tax police in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, and in Rostov Oblast. In an interview with the Regnum information agency, Takazov said that corruption within North Ossetia’s law-enforcement organs has reached an “unprecedented scale” over the last year or two, affecting above all the traffic police and the police who conduct patrols and control checkpoints. Two years ago, he said, truck drivers closed the Trans-Caucasus Highway to protest having to pay “tribute” at each of the roughly 20 police posts along the highway between Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, and the Georgian border.

Takazov went on to describe illegal schemes to produce bootleg oil that may be financing terrorism in the North Caucasus. “It is now fashionable to ask the question — how is terrorism financed,” he said. “I can name one scheme: oil illegally extracted in Chechnya is taken across to illegal mini-oil refineries in North Ossetia, and from there, bootleg gas and diesel is taken to Georgia. Uncontrolled money made this way winds up in Chechnya.”

Takazov said that prior to his retirement he had investigated how Chechen oil is illegally converted in North Ossetia and discovered a location on the border between the republic and Ingushetia’s Malgobeksk district where North Ossetians would drive with Kamaz trucks, pay off Chechens or Ingush who would then drive off with the trucks and return them several hours later, now filled with oil. “All of this goes on along an unguarded dirt road,” he said, noting that such routes could have been used by the terrorists who attacked Beslan. He added, however, that any vehicle entering North Ossetia on main roads could avoid inspection simply by paying a bribe amounting to, in the case of a bus, 150 rubles (around $5). “I recently drove into North Ossetia from Kabardino-Balkaria,” he said. “The Kabaradino-Balkarian post does not let anyone enter that republic without an inspection, but coming into [North] Ossetia there are two lines — ‘legal’ and ‘special.’ You could bring an atom bomb through the ‘special’ line.”

Some of the Beslan hostages told journalists that their kidnappers had taunted them, saying they had bribed their way past checkpoints (Associated Press, September 9). Such reports, and the bribery detailed by Takazov, call to mind the 1995 raid by Chechen separatist field commander Shamil Basayev on a hospital in the southern Russian town of Budennovsk. Basayev later bragged that he and his convoy of more than 100 heavily-armed rebels had bribed their way through more than 24 checkpoints, joking: “We would have got all the way to Moscow if our money hadn’t run out” (Daily Telegraph, September 2).

Takazov noted that while corruption thrives, competent and honest law-enforcers in North Ossetia face huge obstacles. He cited the case of his brother, who was an Interior Ministry explosives expert. “In 2002, he was involved in bringing a person suspected of murder in for questioning,” Takazov said. “The witnesses on whose testimony the case against this suspect was based soon, for unknown reasons, withdrew their testimony and he was freed. Then my brother was accused of an illegal detention, and they tried to arrest him.” Takazov said the case against his brother was dropped when officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office intervened on his behalf, but that he was forced to resign from law-enforcement. Some media have reported that several of the terrorists suspected of having participated in the Beslan hostage taking had earlier been detained by police but were released (see EDM, September 8).

Despite the problem of police corruption in North Ossetia, Takazov said he did not view the situation as being hopeless. “Quite a few worthy, professional people remain in North Ossetia’s law-enforcement organs, and it is important that we unite and together oppose corruption,” he said (Regnum.ru, September 12).