In another high-profile bust, the ministry announced that it had uncovered corruption in the Moscow city government’s construction committee — a success attributed to a special unit created on the orders of President Dmitry Medvedev.
Both announcements were made at a news conference held by the ministry’s economic crimes department, which later released a summary of these and other crimes it said were uncovered amid the recent economic turmoil.
It was not immediately clear why the ministry chose to release the details all at once. Sberbank said it had uncovered and reported the theft in March, and a City Hall spokesman said no officials had been arrested for crimes described by the ministry, describing the report as “slander.”
The announcements come amid a broader effort by the Interior Ministry to show that it is serious about fighting corruption. The busts would be a welcome victory for Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, who faced a dressing down from Medvedev on Tuesday over violence in Ingushetia (Story, Page 3).
The Interior Ministry has also been coping with fallout from an officer’s shooting rampage this spring.
Sberbank, the country’s largest lender, confirmed that its employees accepted fictitious documents when handing out loans to individuals and companies at the bank’s Stromynskoye branch in eastern Moscow from June 2006 to April 2007.
The bank’s internal security department spotted the “fraudulent actions by organized crime groups” and reported them to the police in March, the lender said in a statement. Moscow police are studying the case and whether former employees from the branch were involved, it said.
The Interior Ministry’s economic security department reported the employees’ involvement as a fact, however, saying the group included the branch’s director and security officers. The group scammed Sberbank out of $109 million and 52 million euros ($73 million), the department said on its web site.
The report did not say how many people were involved or whether any had been detained. Police began a criminal investigation of the fraud in May, and it is ongoing, said Albert Istomin, a spokesman for the economic crimes department.
If convicted on the fraud charges, the Sberbank employees would face up to 10 years in jail.
In the city government case, the department said police busted a group of Moscow construction officials, whom they accused of extorting bribes totaling 8 billion rubles ($250 million) between May 2008 and May 2009 from companies bidding for city contracts.
The group’s ringleader was nabbed red-handed when he was being given a bribe of 2 million rubles, the department said on its web site. None of the officials was named, and the report provided no additional details.
The city government angrily denied the report.
“The information … is slander that needs immediate retraction,” City Hall spokesman Sergei Tsoi said, Interfax reported.
Police have detained one employee at the city’s contracts and capital construction committee, Sergei Tatintsyan, and that was in April, he said. Tsoi called him a rank-and-file bureaucrat, who acted alone and had no authority to hold bidding for city contracts.
“Like any other official, Tatintsyan was unable to influence the bidding results because the system of placing city contracts in the capital is absolutely transparent,” Tsoi said.
Tatintsyan was not immediately available for contact.
A leading corruption expert, Kirill Kabanov, said he was excited about the reported bust of a group of officials, rather than a single bureaucrat, because it indicated that police began employing a more comprehensive approach to corruption cases.
“It’s a positive signal and quite new for our law enforcement system,” said Kabanov, director of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, a nongovernmental organization.
Kabanov attributed the new approach to the creation of a special unit at the Interior Ministry’s economic security department — Operations and Investigations Bureau No. 3 — a move he said was made on orders from Medvedev, who made fighting graft one of his top priorities immediately after taking office in May 2008.
In a Sept. 6 decree, Medvedev ordered the Interior Ministry’s economic security department to assume responsibility for fighting corruption. The department subsequently set up bureau No. 3.
Istomin, the department’s spokesman, confirmed that a deputy chief of the new bureau spoke at the news conference but declined to provide more details.
Kabanov also praised the new unit for interacting with his NGO, unlike other agencies that the National Anti-Corruption Committee contacts with ideas and proposals. Even so, he was cautious about the unit’s prospects.
“I’m afraid other law enforcement agencies could stand in the way or swallow them,” he said.
There could also be a limit to how many high-placed officials they might expose, Kabanov added.
“We have a caste of untouchables,” he said.
Oleg Nikishenkov contributed to this story.