Cost of Bribes More Than Doubles in ’09

The average cost of a bribe more than doubled last year, the Interior Ministry's economic safety department said Thursday, although experts say the figures may be on the low side.

The cost of an average bribe last year reached more than 23,000 rubles ($780), up from 9,000 rubles in 2008, the department said in a statement posted on its web site.

The ministry registered 7,856 cases of bribery involving state agencies in 2009, an increase of 10.2 percent from the year before. Of those cases, a total of 2,351 people were prosecuted for corruption last year, a rise of 14.9 percent, the statement said.

But corruption is likely to level off this year, as the department already has registered a decline in the number of corruption cases since January.

"[There's been] a 7 percent decline. It's not a global victory, but it shows that the measures taken in 2009 are working," said Alexander Nazarov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's economic safety department.

President Dmitry Medvedev declared war on corruption after assuming his post in 2008, creating the Anti-Corruption Council and calling on it to draft legislation to protect businesses from corrupt bureaucrats and to guarantee judicial independence.

Medvedev signed a national plan to combat corruption in 2008 and last year signed new anti-corruption legislation, which includes statutes barring officials from accepting gifts worth more than 3,000 rubles ($100) and forcing them to inform state bodies if they plan to join companies in which they may have vested interests.

But the Interior Ministry statistics involve mostly low-profile crimes, and they aren't very helpful in understanding the total amount of corruption in the country, said Yelena Panfilova, head of Transparency International Russia.

"The statistics published by the Interior Ministry don't cover the whole scope of corruption-related crimes — bribery is just a part of the problem," she said. "It would be more helpful if the Prosecutor General's Office offered some statistics on abuse of power by high-ranking officials."

In fact, the average bribe would be much larger if the economic safety department tackled high-ranking people within the law enforcement agencies, said Kirill Kabanov, chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee.

If the authorities went after higher-ranking officials, the size of the bribes they would find "would stun both journalists and the public," he said.

And while the Kremlin's anti-corruption campaign is a good start, it won't be enough to put a dent in the real corruption problem.

"[Medvedev's] main accomplishment is speaking openly about it and calling for action," Kabanov said. "But it looks like the officials on the lower levels don't hear him."

Russia was ranked 146th in Transparency International's worldwide corruption rating in 2009, slightly improving from 147th place, where it was in 2008, the organization said.

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