Economic Crime Rises Eightfold in 2009

Last year saw an eightfold increase in economic crime, The Interior Ministry's Investigative Committee said Wednesday — a figure that raises eyebrows as the body fights off accusations that it harasses businesses.

The committee said in a statement that it had uncovered more than 428,000 economic crimes last year, including more than 74,000 large-scale crimes. The resulting losses exceeded 1 trillion rubles ($33 billion), a 745 percent increase from the same period of 2008.

Bribery alone increased by 13 percent in 2009, the committee said, and remains "one of the most widespread forms of corrupt activity investigated by the Interior Ministry."

The surprisingly large jump in uncovered crimes could be explained in part by the economic crisis.

"People had to survive in the crisis, and they started to solve their problems in all available ways," said Anatoly Golubev, who chairs the Committee to Fight Corruption, an interregional public organization. "Bribes and kickbacks are the easiest way for people to solve their problems."

Golubev also said, however, that the statement could serve as PR. "Such reports never say what people really want to know — how much money has been returned to the budget," he said.

The Investigative Committee, and the Interior Ministry more broadly, is facing its own internal battle with corruption, and increasing economic crime throughout the country may provide the body with the relevance that it needs to resist increasing external pressure.

President Dmitry Medvedev began a massive overhaul of the Interior Ministry last month, ordering that the police force be slashed by 20 percent and promising officers salary increases. As part of the reform, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev lost his right to nominate the head of the ministry's investigative committee, who will now be nominated by the prime minister.

Earlier this month, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin proposed dividing the ministry into three parts: one that would deal with regular law enforcement, another that would deal with more serious crimes, including corruption, and a third that would form a paramilitary force.

Stepashin has also called for the Interior Ministry's dealings in the economic sphere to be curtailed, saying the fight against economic crimes should not be mixed with attempts to harass businesses.

The statement from the Interior Ministry comes one day after a recommendation by Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee under the Prosecutor General's Office, that a separate agency be created to handle economic offences.

In an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Bastrykin suggested that economic crimes had increased in Russia to the point where special focus and training is necessary to investigate them.

Staff Writer Irina Filatova contributed to this report.

See also:

IMF Report: Russia Could Consolidate Up to 12% of GDP in 3 Years

Russian Governor Held On Corruption Charges Refused Bail

Strengthening Ruble Slowing Down Russia's Economy — Report