. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Anti-Corruption Drive Leads to Suicide

The Russian police force is going through difficult times. One example of this is the suicide of a regional police administration head, who was unable to bear the psychological burden of the job.

Vladimir Yeremkin headed the Regional Administration in the Fight against Organized Crime, or RUOP in the Volga region. With his colleagues, he managed to carry out several successful operations against criminal bands. There is a real danger in opposing the criminal world, but Yeremkin was the victim of quite another confrontation.

"My father was under great pressure during his last days," Yeremkin's daughter Tatyana told me, "but he tried hard to hide it."

About a year ago, Yeremkin and his colleagues sensed that a campaign against his department had been launched, just after they had begun to detain organized criminals engaged in arms trafficking and several municipal policemen who allegedly collaborated with them. After that, when Yeremkin's administration accused the deputy chief of the regional customs office and certain municipal workers of bribery, the regional public prosecutor's office sanctioned the arrest of workers in Yeremkin's organization.

One arrest was made after another. The accusations made against those who were arrested were serious. The arrested policemen from the regional administration were held in prison for one to two months. Some of them were let off, since there was nothing to corroborate the accusations. Others were released on probation with instructions not to leave town.

There were 14 such police officers who had been set free, but they had nonetheless been disgraced. Two others, the head and deputy chief of one of the departments of the Volga anti-crime administration, remained behind bars and were held as dangerous criminals. Yeremkin's calls to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office were of no avail.

On a gloomy, rainy day, Yeremkin entered his office and fired the handgun he used on duty into his left breast. The bullet pierced his heart. He did not fall to the floor, but only back into his chair. Those who later saw him initially thought he had fallen asleep. But on the table lay a note that read, "I don't see any other way out. The boys [fellow officers] have to be saved." Further on, he had this to say about them: "I was very worried about them and tried to defend them all. Although not all of them deserved it."

Now, after Saratov newspapers have printed unconfirmed reports on how Yeremkin "himself was involved in something," it has become clear that his suicide was not only an act of despair. He really saw no other way of saving his organization's honor. And he figured that the echo from the shot would force the Russian Interior Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office to look further into the matter.

In five regions of Russia, the conflict between local law enforcement bodies and the anti-crime administrations has reached its peak. The anti-crime officers think the local law enforcement organs are taking their revenge for the arrest of municipal policemen and corrupt officials. As it was explained to me, this is part of a general tendency on the part of local authorities to try to compromise and then to change the recently created hierarchical structure of the Interior Ministry, which is modelled on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Almost everywhere these regional administration organizations initially provoked some hidden hostility of local police departments, then minor smoldering conflicts and finally, as in the case of Saratov, open confrontation. Of course, reforms in Russia are difficult to carry out in general -- and reform of the Interior Ministry organs is especially so.

But the history of the regional anti-crime administrations is made even more complicated by the fact that these newly created structures were supposed to be independent from local bodies and their officers were to be drawn from the municipal police departments. The best professional police officers entered the anti-crime administrations' ranks. Moreover, one of the regional administrations' main tasks was to rid the police departments of corrupt officers, on whom the criminal world depends. It was namely this task that provoked a sense of hostility on the part of police officers. It was widely felt that: "They're turning in their own people."

In the first 10 months of 1995 alone, there were 773 cases of police corruption, 20 percent more cases than in 1994. It is for this reason that Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov began his new job with the "Clean Hands" operation. The operation brought much corruption to light. One such case occurred in Moscow, where a gang ringleader, who went by the name of the "King," had been terrorizing the Sholkovsky market by taking protection money from the vendors. In just five months, the part of his take that went to the local police came to some 45 million rubles ($9200).

One can only guess how many other cases of bribe-taking there actually are in the police force. Could the regional administration authorities, who were uncovering the corrupt activities of their colleagues, expect that their activities would not meet with resistance?

"Our independence from the local authorities is very relative," a regional anti-crime administration official told me. In fact, the administrations are not under the authority of Moscow but are financed through the local Interior Ministry administration. The result is that the Russian Regional Administration in the Fight Against Organized Crime differs from the FBI in that it is subordinated to both state and local government.

Conflict between the municipal police and the new anti-crime organization was almost inevitable. It is provoked not only by the anti-corruption fight, but the regional administrations' dual dependence on local and federal authorities. Half-hearted reforms always tend to comprise the reform process. This is what happened in the case of Volga's Regional Administration. Its activities were secretly or even openly interfered with.

It would be naive to think that all the members of the regional administrations, which sprang from police forces, are perfectly honest and uncorrupted. Undoubtedly, there are several who are not. And those who break the law should be punished by the law and not by the dictates of negative emotions.

In Saratov, the 14 officials from the Regional Administration who were freed after being put under arrest can attest to such emotions -- to the fiery haste with which this campaign against the Regional Administration was carried out.

And the fate of Vladimir Yeremkin, the head of the Volga Regional Administration, is a logical consequence of this campaign.

Igor Gamayunov is an investigative reporter for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.