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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia on Par With Rwanda in Corruption

A government reshuffle and the reopening of an investigation into Tri Kita put Russia on par with Honduras and Swaziland when it comes to corruption, a miniscule improvement from last year, Transparency International said Monday.

Russia scored 2.4 points in the Corruption Perception Index released by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog. It scored 2.5 points last year.

The tiny improvement stems from President Vladimir Putin's replacement of the prosecutor general, reshuffles in the Federal Customs Service and the reopening of the Tri Kita furniture-smuggling case earlier this year, said Yelena Panfilova, director of Transparency International's Russia office.

"People stopped in their tracks in expectation of positive changes," she said.

"As a matter of fact, nothing has changed," she added.

The slaying last month of journalist Anna Politkovskaya could further aggravate corruption by discouraging investigative reporting, Panfilova said.

Civil society institutions have been partially disabled as they struggle through the cumbersome process of re-registering and filing voluminous accounting reports under new rules for nongovernmental organizations, she said.

Miklos Marchall, Transparency International's regional director for Europe and Central Asia, said the low ranking should serve as a wake-up call.

"It is a clear signal, especially for Russian companies exporting energy abroad, to introduce measures ... such as more transparency and basic corporate governance," he said by telephone from Budapest.

Corruption is being fostered by the centralization and state control of economic and political life as well as an increasingly tamed news media, he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that Russia had a long way to go in the fight against corruption, but said "one can't deny certain positive results."

"As far as this survey is concerned ... it is one more confirmation that the situation is changing for the better," he said.

Tied as the least-corrupt countries on Transparency International's list were Finland, Iceland and New Zealand, with a 9.6 rating. Estonia had the best rating of any former Soviet republic, with 6.7, while Belarus and Uzbekistan had the worst, with 2.1. At the bottom of the list were Iraq (1.9) and Haiti (1.8).

Earlier this year, Putin assailed corruption in his state-of-the-nation address in May. He shortly afterward appointed Andrei Belyaninov to head the Federal Customs Service, replacing Alexander Zherikhov. The president dismissed Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov in June, installing Yury Chaika as his replacement. Ustinov went on to take over Chaika's previous job as justice minister.

Following Ustinov's dismissal, prosecutors arrested the owner of Russia's largest furniture retailers, Tri Kita and Grand, and four of his partners on charges of tax evasion.

The arrest marked the reopening of an investigation that had been closed three years ago under pressure from officials linked to the furniture companies.

The closure of the investigation was "a shame for Russia," Panfilova said.

Critics, however, have said the case reflected a turf war among state officials, not a crackdown on corruption.