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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crackdown Targets Corrupt Policemen

The number of Russian police officers judged guilty of corruption increased by 80 percent from 1994 to 1995 and will likely jump this year thanks to a stepped-up anti-graft campaign by the Interior Ministry, according to a spokesman.

The new campaign, "Operation Clean Hands," promises to track down corruption wherever it lurks in police ranks, said spokesman Alexei Petrenko.

The operation has been underway since January 1996, when the Interior Minister created a Directorate of Internal Security to police the police.

Such bodies were started up in every Interior Ministry department across the country and, according to Petrenko, they are a major explanation for recent reports of high firings and prosecutions of police. Itar-Tass said Thursday that more than 450 Moscow police officers had been fired and 149 already tried in court over an unspecified period.

Petrenko cited one case which exposed the head of a police department who, together with an assistant, accepted 250 million rubles ($46,000) in bribes earlier this year. Corruption ranging from acceptance of petty "gifts" to outright involvement in organized crime will be targeted by Clean Hands.

The process of rounding up corrupt officers has been gaining steam since 1991, when only 40 officers were found guilty in court of corruption, Petrenko said. By 1995, the number was 1,277.

The increase can be explained not only by the strengthened efforts of the Interior Ministry to catch its own but also by economic hardships which cause officers to seek out parallel -- and often illegal -- means of income, Petrenko said.

"This is a difficult economic period," he said. "Wages are very low, from one to 1.5 million rubles a month for an officer. ... If the country were richer, there wouldn't be so many problems." But Alexei Platonov, district inspector at Moscow's 47th precinct, said that low wages are no excuse for corruption. "Even without money in his pocket, an honorable person won't commit a crime," he said.

Platonov said most officers have accepted the anti-corruption campaign.

"The officers who aren't tied to corruption are in a fine mood," he said.

Another source of corruption, Petrenko said, was that as the private economy grew in recent years, the police force was not getting the highest quality of applicants. Now that private sector work is becoming harder to find, he said, the force is attracting stronger candidates.

Petrenko said that when evidence of police corruption is found, the officer is fired immediately. He then awaits trial. If found innocent in court, he is invited back to work and is paid for the time he missed.

Petrenko signaled that the campaign would go ahead regardless of any opposition in the ranks. "These people didn't properly behave themselves," he said. "They broke the law. We won't stop. We will proceed with maximum toughness against corruption."

"A person wants to believe in his police," he continued. "If he knows corrupt police are punished, his trust increases."