4 Agriculture Officials Face Charges of Accepting Bribes

The Interior Ministry said in a statement Friday that it accused four Agriculture Ministry officials of accepting a bribe worth more than 16 million rubles ($660,000) and said arrest warrants had been issued.

Alexei Volkov, the chief of the ministry's oversight agency, the Federal Service for Veterinarian and Vegetation Sanitary Supervision, for Moscow and the surrounding regions, and three of his colleagues -- Roman Slesarenko, Vyacheslav Ragulin and Andrei Orlov -- took the payoff this year for the renewal of a license, Interior Ministry investigators said in the statement.

The allegations raise "more questions than answers," service spokesman Alexei Alexeyenko said in a telephone interview. He declined further comment. Volkov, Slesarenko, Ragulin and Orlov couldn't immediately be reached for comment and the service could not provide the names of their lawyers.

The service froze the operating license of Zabolotskoye hunting reserve in July, investigators said. Volkov and his three colleagues "abused their professional capacity" and offered to renew the license in exchange for the bribe, the statement said.

President Vladimir Putin has said corruption is one of the country's most pressing problems. The allegations come a week after Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak was detained on suspicion of trying to embezzle $43.4 million from the federal budget.

Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who headed the state money-laundering watchdog before his promotion two months ago, pledged to intensify the fight against graft in the run-up to the State Duma and presidential elections.