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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaign Against Graft Gathers Speed

Itar-TassBukhvalov, the head of Perm's regional legislature, is just one official caught in the focus of corruption investigations.
An anti-corruption campaign focusing on regional officials is intensifying in what appears to be a Kremlin-orchestrated prelude to parliamentary and presidential elections, analysts said Thursday.

High-profile political figures in the Kaliningrad, Primorye, Perm and Tver regions have become the latest to attract the attention of prosecutors in the battle against graft -- the favorite gripe of many a voter.

"It is such a popular theme among the voters that the timing is suspicious," Nikolai Petrov, a regional analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Thursday. "Many of the cases we are seeing in court today actually began several years ago."

In a new case, prosecutors opened a criminal investigation Wednesday into "multiple breaches of the law" during the sale of public land by Fyodor Yaroshevich, the mayor of the Kaliningrad region town of Baltiisk, a spokeswoman for the Kaliningrad Region Prosecutor's Office said by telephone Thursday.

"The case was opened at the personal request of [Kaliningrad Regional Prosecutor Alexei] Samsonov," said the spokeswoman, who declined to give her name in keeping with official policy.

In one of the cases resurfacing from the past, it emerged Thursday that the Prosecutor General's Office had charged Igor Ivanov, the former Federation Council representative for the far eastern Primorye region, with heading up a criminal organization to import contraband goods from neighboring China, Kommersant reported.

"We are not yet commenting on that," Dmitry Karnazhitsky, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office, said Thursday.

The newspaper said arrest warrants had been issued for Ivanov and other officials charged with smuggling.

Those two cases come in the wake of the issuing by authorities in Perm of an arrest warrant for the head of the regional legislature, Nikolai Bukhvalov. Prosecutors charge that the firm Zavod ZhBK-1 failed to pay 3.5 million rubles (about $135,000) in taxes while Bukhvalov was general director from 2003 to 2005. Bukhvalov told Interfax on Thursday that he was on vacation.

District prosecutors charged Vladivostok Mayor Yury Kopylov on Wednesday with abuse of office for spending more than 4 million rubles on personal security guards from 1999 to 2004.

And a jury in Tver Regional Court was to deliver its verdict late Thursday in a case involving 14 local parliamentary deputies, including Speaker Viktor Pochtaryov, charged with accepting bribes, Interfax reported

Analysts said that while they had little doubt there was a legal basis for the recent cases, they found the timing suspicious given the high place graft occupies on lists of complaints by voters.

"It's a complicated picture," said Dmitry Badovsky, a regional analyst at the Institute of Social Systems. "All well-publicized corruption battles are conducted as part of a bigger campaign."

Badovsky said the Primorye case was more likely aimed at rooting out corruption -- or at least at creating a strong impression that this is the goal -- ahead of a forthcoming summit on the development of the country's Far East.

There are, however, cities and regions where, despite rampant corruption, officials carry on with relative impunity, Badovsky said.

"The Kremlin always has this to use as ammunition in the event officials display a lack of loyalty," he said.