Anti-Corruption Efforts In Russia Fall Short People in Russia pay an estimated $300 billion a year in bribes to street cops and government officials in a system rife with corruption. President Dmitri Medvedev says one of his top priorities is fighting corruption, but critics say he couldn't tackle the problem even if he wanted to.
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Anti-Corruption Efforts In Russia Fall Short

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Anti-Corruption Efforts In Russia Fall Short

Anti-Corruption Efforts In Russia Fall Short

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Authorities in Russia say they're cracking down on corruption. It's a chronic problem, and they've even been making arrests. The trouble, as we're about to hear, comes when you find out exactly who's getting arrested and who's not. NPR's Gregory Feifer reports on an anti-corruption campaign that critics say is just for show.

(Soundbite of truck engines)

GREGORY FEIFER: Trucks pass through the gates of a factory complex surrounded by Soviet residential buildings in Northeast Moscow. It's here the police came for Roman Pronyak. Once partner of a prospering food supply company that rented a warehouse here, Pronyak is the picture of a middle-class businessman, down to his natty overcoat and South Korean-made car.

Mr. ROMAN PRONYAK (Businessman): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Pronyak says two years ago, a small army of masked commandos brandishing Kalashnikovs showed up here to arrest him. Pronyak was dragged off to another region south of Moscow and thrown in jail for a year and a half.

Mr. PRONYAK: (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: It was hell, he says. The charges were absurd.

Pronyak was accused of drug smuggling. Police said the poppy seeds his company sold for baking were really used to make heroin. Pronyak guesses he was targeted only because the police wanted to appear to be tackling crime.

That's an old story for many Russians, who believe that rather than investigating actual crimes, police spend much of their time falsifying statistics to meet Soviet-era quotas for cases they're required to solve, sometimes by framing innocent people.

ANDREI (Former Police Detective): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Andrei is a former detective who won't give his last name because he's afraid of reprisals from former colleagues. He says police even set up crimes they appear to solve as a cover for their real activity: using their official positions for profit.

From migrant workers forced to pay bribes to street cops to businesses paying to keep government inspectors from shutting them down, the government itself estimates people in Russia pay $300 billion in bribes each year.

ANDREI: (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: It's a business, Andrei says. And it goes all the way to the top. The sums grow larger as they get passed up.

Andrei says most police couldn't afford to live on their meager official salaries, let alone afford the rows of shiny luxury cars parked in front of many police buildings. He says everyone's involved. Those who don't agree to take part are fired or framed.

Andrei says to get promoted to the most lucrative positions, police officials have to pay their superiors tens of thousands of dollars.

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: President Medvedev has promised a major campaign against corruption, which he recently said threatens not only Russia's small businesses, but the country's very stability. Last month, Medvedev and other top officials declared their incomes and assets for the first time.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

FEIFER: Next to Red Square, a tour group heads through the high gates of the Kremlin. Tourists may be allowed in to visit, but critics say any idea Russia's center of power is becoming more open is just an illusion. They say the financial declarations by the president and his ministers, among many other recent anti-corruption drives, are like the guided tours: just window dressing.

Mikhail Trepashkin is a former officer of the Federal Security Service who says he was fired from the FSB, the successor to the KGB, in 1995 after helping catch high-ranking special forces officers selling weapons to Chechen rebels.

Mr. MIKHAIL TREPASHKIN (Former officer of the Federal Security Service): (Through Translator) The regime Putin built was based on loyalty to him above the rule of law, and that's a clear sign of corruption and why Putin and corruption will be remembered together in history.

FEIFER: Out on Moscow's main avenue, fancy clothes shops and restaurants give this city the look of any other major capital. But some say that under the surface - first under Putin, and now under his protege Medvedev - Russia has become a dangerous place for critics of the authorities, partly because society here views corruption as normal.

Back outside his company's former warehouse, businessman Roman Pronyak says despite a lack of any evidence he sold poppy seeds to make heroin, he's still facing trial. He says he's still in shock over his year and a half in jail.

Mr. PRONYAK: (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Every day, I kept thinking the cell door would open, that they'd realize it was all a mistake, he says. Now I know the police are free to do whatever they want.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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