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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Says 5,500 Officials Being Investigated for Bribery

About 5,500 Russian officials are under investigation for taking bribes this year, and Russia's economic troubles are creating a breeding ground for corruption, the interior minister said Tuesday.

"A poverty-stricken official is always prone to crime," Sergei Stepashin said at a news conference.

He called for increasing salaries of police and other officials, sharply devalued by a steep dive of the Russian currency since the government stopped propping up the ruble in August.

Russian police have undertaken a massive effort to combat graft, including corruption in its own ranks, but the problem has continued to plague the government, Stepashin said.

"We are especially concerned about corruption on the grassroots level, such as bribe-taking among traffic police and various small offices," he said.

Stepashin urged the government to radically streamline the bureaucracy to reduce the opportunities for bribery.

Stepashin mentioned several high-profile corruption cases, including the arrest last summer of top officials with the government's statistics service, accused of falsifying data to help big companies dodge taxes. Police found more than $1 million in cash at suspects' homes.

The Prosecutor General's Office said Tuesday that the investigation is still under way, Itar-Tass reported.

Last week, Grigory Yavlinsky, a prominent liberal lawmaker and a presidential hopeful, caused an uproar when he said Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's new government is as prone to corruption as its predecessors.

On Monday, Yavlinsky sent a letter to Primakov, urging him to investigate past business connections of several high-ranking Cabinet members and their lobbying efforts for business interests.

Primakov criticized Yavlinsky for failing to provide evidence, but instructed his aides to probe the accusations and prepare a detailed response.