Seaside Resort Prosecutor's Lot Is No Holiday

When I called prosecutor Kazimirov to confirm our meeting, I was told the following: "Last night there was a shootout, I'm off to the scene..." A slight pause followed when I asked if I could go along. "What hotel are you in? Wait at the entrance."

This is the southern Russian resort of Sochi. Kazimirov sits behind the wheel of his Volga. About 40, tall and well-built, chiselled features, decisive. Without taking his eyes off the road Kazimirov fills me in on the shooting: they fired from the bushes opposite the entrance to the house, aimed at one of two guys but hitting a third. Clearly bandits settling scores.

"It is a delusion to think that clashes between criminal groups don't concern law abiding citizens," says Kazimirov. "Imagine a fear creeping through the town that doesn't just paralyse people's liberty, but also erodes their consciousness of the law. Young lads with no criminal past easily become racketeers because violence has become a way of life."

Later, returning to the prosecutor's office, we look at the statistics on crime in his jurisdiction in central Sochi. They show a strange mix of slumps and booms in the occurrence of serious crimes, swinging from year to year.

"These are not simply the caprices of criminal settling of accounts," says Kazimirov, expounding on his theory. "Bloody eruptions are a reflection of the situation in the country. Start with 1993, the storming of the Ostankino television tower by the opposition forces, the shelling of the White House, weakened government ... The reaction of the criminal world to this was 'Do what you want, brothers -- our time has come!' Then in 1994 came a degree of overall stabilization and a slump in the number of serious crimes. In 1995 the carving up and distribution of state property reaches a peak, producing not just isolated murders but a whole stream of contract killings. In 1996 there is a breather, a slump before the sharing out of property intensified again in 1997, and the shootings become more frequent here and across the whole country."

Kazimirov produces photos of a palatial house surrounded by palm trees, belonging to an elderly businessman gunned down one fine sunny day last year on his own marble steps. Two weeks later his son died when his Mercedes was riddled with bullets. Victims of a hidden tug-of-war over the lucrative oil market, the investigation revealed.

"Let's say that the law enforcement agencies untangle this mess, punish the culprits and isolate them from society. The profits involved mean that other people will simply step into their shoes. Since the economy is still outside the legal sphere of influence, under the rule of force and not law, the bloody settling of accounts will begin again. And it'll stay that way until a legislative base for an honest economy is created. Our lawmakers don't appear to be hurrying, though, and in the absence of law, grinning state officials continue to build lavish residences using the names of distant relatives."

I forget the number of times I have heard people say that there's no need for a special law on corruption because there are sufficient provisions in the criminal code. I run this past the prosecutor.

"What does sufficient mean?" he counters. "How many criminal cases against corrupt officials have made it to court? Do some homework. And compare that with the number of mini-mansions inhabited by an ever increasing number of officials."

So why don't more cases reach court?

"They are bogged down with cries of 'Lies! Lies! Lies!' White collar crimes are such that collecting evidence and documenting them is complicated. One example for you: The investigators have audio-recordings of an official who has taken tens of thousands of dollars for signing a particular document. Specialists must authenticate the recordings and for that they need a recording of the suspect's voice. A lawyer will tell the suspect not to speak so they can't get a sample. And he says nothing at interrogations, or even in the cell."

And has Alexander Grigoryevich ever been offered a bribe?

"There have been one or two attempts, once during visiting hours, when the prosecutor is accessible to everyone. There was a very intelligent looking man among the visitors. He had a slight smile and was taking a close look around at my cramped office. 'You recently arrested --' and he named a big mafia figure. 'He's not a young man. He has high blood pressure. And coughing -- apparently to deafen any microphones there might be -- he said: 'Name any figure you like.' 'You've got the wrong man,' I told him, and he left right away."

The prosecutor's second encounter was simpler but bolder: Lose a few pages from the case files -- exactly which ones were specified -- "And our 1.5 billion ruble loss will be your gain."

By sending both of the men on their way, the prosecutor at least made it clear to those on the other side of the law that there was no point in trying. There were no more attempts.

Prosecutor Kazimirov also has a private life to consider. When preparing to visit someone, he tries to determine who else has been invited. He is aware that it is easy to find oneself sitting at the same table with a man whose fortune was made in any number of dubious ways, and who is now trying to "legitimize himself" by appearing in the same company as the prosecutor.

There is nothing straight-laced or snobbish in Kazimirov's caution. Only his professional convictions: Whether on the job or not, the prosecutor has to think about his image.

He takes a special interest in the younger investigators. "It takes six months to tell who the talkers are, and who the workers are," he says. Apartments are found for the workers -- this is a big problem in Sochi. Like the wages paid to investigators.

"As long as the government refuses to allocate normal funds for investigators, the problem will remain. In their contact with the criminal world, they are constantly tempted by big money. Some become defense lawyers. Others fall prey to the temptation of so much cash.

We're not talking about swimming in gold here. But investigators should have a standard, minimum benefits package: A decent retirement scheme, a good apartment, a dacha and a vehicle. Those who represent the law should not look like beggars, they should be confident that an unblemished career means financial success, prestige and status in society."

Kazimirov often invites reporters to his office, and even shows up on television from time to time. He feels it is important "although it may sound childlike, to constantly remind everyone what good and bad are ... So that in these difficult times of transition, the boundaries between the two are not washed away in society's consciousness -- especially among young people. If we as a people ever stop distinguishing good from bad, we will be lost as a nation."

Igor Gamayunov is a staff writer for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.