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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Corruption Came About By 'Mistake'?




"With such a huge country conducting such a large-scale privatization everywhere, of course, we made mistakes. We took [anti-corruption] measures, but maybe that wasn't enough." - Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin this week in Washington.


Yes, well, it happens. You are walking along, talking of your sincere desire to build a free and democratic society. Suddenly you stumble, catch yourself - and the next thing you know, you own an oil company!


Oops! How embarrassing. After all, we took all those anti-corruption measures. For example, when we asked Uneximbank to run the privatization auctions for the nation's most lucrative nickel mines, we told them: You'd better make sure no corrupt people buy these mines!


So Uneximbank evaluated all the bids carefully and declared itself the winner - which wasn't perfect, but hey, it was "a large-scale privatization going on everywhere," so sometimes these things happened. And we had to hurry, because there were Communists coming, or maybe it was "Islamic militants," but regardless there was no time to sit around splitting hairs.


These days, of course - years after most of the easy money has been divvied up - we have a certain luxury of time for splitting hairs. And so privatization architect Anatoly Chubais this week could offer us yet another gem of moral reasoning. In a dig at suspended Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov - who has been accused of having sex with prostitutes offered to him as a bribe - Chubais proclaimed that he personally holds "a very negative view of bribes taken in the form of sexual services."


It's an interesting question of ethics. Are sexual favors on a lower moral plane than other forms of bribes - such as, let's say, fake book royalties? Or, say, bribes disguised as interest-free loans for the purpose of "building civic society?" Really it's hard to see a moral difference - it's more a question of appetites than of ethics.


This may seem obvious. But when it comes to discussing Russian corruption, you apparently can't do too much of that.


Consider: The International Monetary Fund, as part of its anti-corruption measures, has said it is working with Russian public and private institutions to "increase transparency." The Central Bank, the government, commercial banks - all are encouraged to be "more transparent," to provide more information about their business dealings.


The obvious problem with this logic is it assumes that such business dealings stand up to scrutiny. Often they don't though, because ... well, mistakes were made.