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Report: Anti-Graft Drive Mostly Talk

President Dmitry Medvedev’s 18-month campaign against corruption caused Transparency International on Tuesday to bump Russia up by one spot on its annual corruption index.

The anti-corruption watchdog said the decision to move Russia up a notch from 147th to 146th place — tying with Ukraine and squeezed between the African nations Kenya and Sierra Leone — was based more on Medvedev’s words than his actions.

A State Duma deputy and a small business owner agreed that corruption remained untamed.

“The situation with corruption is still horrible and I wouldn’t say that it has improved for the better,” Yelena Panfilova, head of Transparency International’s Moscow office, told The Moscow Times.

Panfilova linked Russia’s small gain to anti-corruption rhetoric from Medvedev and other senior officials and hopes for future measures against corruption.

“The government has started to notice corruption, and there has been a lot of talk about it recently. This brings restrained optimism,” Panfilova said.

Panfilova mentioned a package of anti-corruption measures signed by Medvedev, including the mandatory declaration of income by state officials and members of their families. The results of the initiative are mixed, however, with some officials known for their extravagant lifestyles declaring very modest incomes and property. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said he only owned a tiny Grozny apartment and cheap Lada car.

Transparency International’s reports tend to generate criticism from Russian politicians, and Tuesday’s report was no exception. Mikhail Grishankov, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee and a former colonel in the Federal Security Service, questioned Transparency International’s methodology, which put Russia far behind many poor African nations.

But he said he agreed with its conclusion that corruption remained high in Russia. “Corruption is very high, and going up or down one place makes no difference,” he told The Moscow Times.

Transparency International bases its index on accounts of international expert groups such as the World Bank and The Economist Intelligence Unit. Countries are graded on a scale of zero — a country with the most pervasive corruption — to 10 — a country that is completely corruption-free. Russia’s grade moved from 2.1 in 2008 to 2.2 this year.

New Zealand grabbed the top spot, which was occupied by Denmark last year. The highest scores are received by countries with “solid, functioning public institutions,” Transparency International said in a statement.

Notably, Georgia lost one point this year and was ranked in 66th place.

Corruption costs Russia $300 billion per year, a figure close to the country’s annual federal budget, said Kirill Kabanov, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, a public watchdog.

While much of the money involves kickbacks from big companies to top officials, corruption is widespread in the daily lives of ordinary people. About 60 percent of Russians say they give bribes, according to a July survey of by the Profit Online Research marketing agency.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said recently that about 40,000 corruption cases have been investigated so far this year, an increase of 11 percent from last year. A third of the cases involved bribery, he said.

Medvedev said in his state-of-the-nation address last week that more then 500 government officials and 700 law enforcement officials were jailed on corruption charges in the first six months of this year.

Transparency International praised Medvedev’s efforts to fight corruption in a report released with the 2009 index. “The president recently admitted publicly that corruption is endemic in Russia,” it said.

Medvedev has made the fight against corruption a hallmark of his presidency.

But critics say law enforcement agencies are incapable of fighting graft because they are rotting with corruption from within.

Some business owners say low-ranking police officers provoke people to break the law and then demand money to avoid arrest.

Anna Sokolova, who owns Syrnaya Dyrka, a small restaurant in central Moscow, recalled a case when two women came to her restaurant and asked for an alcoholic drink. After she served the drink, one woman identified herself as a police officer and said the other was her underage daughter. The policewoman then demanded that Sokolova pay her money to avoid prosecution for serving alcohol to a minor. Sokolova said she did because she was afraid that police would take away her restaurant license.

“I remember that I was afraid,” she said.

Sokolova said other police officers and government inspectors also visited her establishment to ask for bribes, and she recently hired a lawyer to fight back. She placed a sign in the restaurant saying that she would only engage in negotiations with bureaucrats in the presence of her lawyer. She advises fellow businesspeople also to use a tape recorder while talking to officials.

But Sokolova said she knows cases like hers are rare. “I have never met a person with a lot of money who tried to resolve his problems with officials legally,” she said.

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