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Putin says Police and Business don't mix

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday urged the police to keep out of business disputes and try to win the public's trust.

"Especially dangerous are the cases -- I want to underline this -- of police getting involved in corporate wars and economic disputes," Putin said in a speech to high-ranking Interior Ministry officials shown on television. "I urge you to stay away from this."

Putin's tough remarks came as a think tank released a two-year study that shows police corruption has grown so large that scoldings from on high and even the arrests of dirty cops will not help. The study also links federal and regional authorities to economic disputes -- suggesting that a police crackdown would do little to resolve the problem.

Putin said that instead of meddling in business disputes, the police should put their efforts into protecting businesses from crime and the arbitrariness of bureaucrats.

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who was appointed two years ago with a mandate to clean up the police force, told the meeting that more than 21,000 police officers were found guilty of various violations last year. He said 17,000 of them were fired from the force.

He also said 2.5 million crimes were committed last year, and the number of grave crimes fell by 25 percent in comparison with 2001. He said the decrease reflected greater economic and political stability.

Putin said, however, that the drop could be linked in part to the failure of the police to register some crimes in an attempt to embellish official statistics.

Gryzlov, who promised shortly after his appointment in 2001 that the police would be more responsible in registering complaints, said the Interior Ministry has stepped up its efforts to fight corruption but conceded that they remain insufficient.

While the police often know which officers are accepting bribes, "they do not even try to make use of this information and detain only low-ranking bribe-takers," Gryzlov said. "I am demanding more vigorous action to counter corruption at all levels." Leonid Kosals, a researcher at the Socio-Economic Problems of Population, which released the corruption study, said firing or jailing officers would not put an end to the problem.

"Police corruption has became such a systematic phenomenon that attempts to get rid of it by merely prosecuting guilty officers are no longer sensible," said Kosals, who headed the study. "The authorities know this but do little about it because it is in their financial interests to have corrupt officers."

Federal and regional authorities need corrupt officers because they can then ask them to carry out favors -- and the officers have little choice but to comply, he said. Among those favors are police raids in business disputes. For example, if a businessman wants to take over a rival's firm, all he has to do is bribe a state official, who in turn calls up the police, and the job gets done. Kosals' team interviewed 2,209 mid- and low-level police officers in eight regions for the corruption study. It was conducted from 2000 to 2002 and sponsored by George Soros' Open Society Institute.

The study also found that police officers make extra money by engaging in up to 50 activities unrelated to their duties, most of which are illegal. Illegal activities include bribe-taking, registering stolen cars, drugs and arms dealing, selling fake passports and kidnapping. Legal activities include retail trade, driving gypsy taxicabs and providing guard services.

Income from driving gypsy cabs and providing guard services alone amounts to from $1 billion to almost $3 billion per year, the study said. The Interior Ministry's annual budget grew from $3 billion to $5 billion from 2000 to 2002.

In total, 65 percent of respondents acknowledged that the police participate in business disputes, and a similar number said businessmen had given officers bribes -- ranging from cash to computers for their police stations.

"If all businessmen in Russia enjoyed equal rights, the police could not be hired by anyone," Kosals said.

Although most of the respondents said they had resorted to illegal activities because of their low pay, the study said there was an even bigger underlying factor: the desire of the federal and regional authorities to use the police as a tool to secure property for their benefit.

"In Russia, wealth is acquired not by accumulation but by seizure, which is often performed by policemen on orders from local bureaucrats," Kosals said. "Thus, the ruling clans feel comfortable with corrupt police officers. They are more manageable." The study also makes a direct link between police corruption and their rudeness to the public.

Putin said Thursday that the reputation of the police has remained low. "People's complaints and polling data show that," he said.

More than 63,000 complaints were filed about corrupt police officers last year, according to the Interior Ministry.

Fifty-one percent of Russians rank the police as the most corrupt government agency, according to a survey conducted by the VTsIOM polling agency last year.

(The Moscow Times 07.ii.03)

 
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