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#9 - JRL 7241
New York Times
June 26, 2003
As Elections Approach, Russians See Corruption Crackdown
By JAMES BROOKE

MOSCOW, June 25 State television today featured majestic shots of a compound of brick dachas, an all-weather tennis court and an azure swimming pool all built by police colonels with official salaries of about $300 a month.

It's election season, cynics say, which means it's time for a televised anticorruption campaign.

"A gang of werewolves wearing police epaulets," Russia's interior minister, Boris Gryzlov, intoned about six police colonels formally arrested today for running "a crime corporation" that extorted protection money from owners of shops, restaurants and casinos.

Interior Ministry officials said that the ring involved 30 police officers, but several escaped arrest on Monday, possibly because the minister announced the crackdown on state television just as his teams were knocking on doors across Moscow, making televised arrests.

Mr. Gryzlov wears a second hat, that of the leader of United Russia, the main party of President Vladimir V. Putin's parliamentary coalition. Parliamentary elections are now less than six months away, and voter polls show United Russia running neck and neck with the Communist Party, each receiving about 21 percent of voter preference.

Today's images of the police colonels' gold-plated toilets and 16th-century icons competed with more news from the interior minister: the arrest of two men suspected of involvement in the murder of an opposition member of the State Duma, Sergei Yushenkov, who was shot outside his Moscow apartment on April 17.

The arrest of the two men capped a busy two months for the Interior Ministry, which has announced the solutions to most of Russia's high- profile murders of recent years. Last week it announced the arrest of a suspect in the murder of the governor of the Magadan region, Valentin Tsvetkov, who was shot on a Moscow street in October.

In April, just days after Vasily Naumov, a gangland figure in the Russian Far East, was shot to death in South Korea, the interior minister announced that the same man had organized the May 2002 killing of a general in the Federal Border Service, Vitaly Gamov. In that killing, three Molotov cocktails were thrown into the general's apartment, sparking a fire that killed him and badly injured his wife.

"He travels to the Far East and announces that he has solved two of the region's most high-profile murders," said Yulia Latynina, a sharp-tongued novelist, who had plenty of time to talk today because her talk show went off the air with the demise on Sunday of the only remaining independent television station. "People will be impressed with the police when they stop stealing from them, when they start preventing crimes, when they start solving crimes."

The Interior Ministry public relations department deflected such criticism by citing a public opinion poll (commissioned by the ministry) showing that the number of respondents "quite satisfied" with Russia's police rose to 23.5 percent in 2002, up from 21 percent in 2000.

Each year the ministry purges about 10 percent of its ranks for corruption, said Alexander Doronin, an expert on private security agencies. As part of this week's purge, television viewers saw suspects being paraded before cameras and heard special reports on the mechanics of an extortion racket. According to the ministry, the "gang of colonels" would frame their targets, sometimes planting heroin packets, explosives or weapons. They would then demand cash to drop the charges.

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