Russia fights low-level corruption while bigger fish go free

According to UN, money siphoned off through bribes around the world every year stands at almost one trillion dollars. Russia’s high levels of corruption make it a serious offender, with the average rate of bribes growing faster than inflation.

An anti-corruption campaign is gathering pace, but the people involved in the biggest bribery scandals are also the ones who seem best at avoiding prosecution.

A police raid on the home of a suspect is being filmed. The cameraman’s hands are shaking. He is a police investigator who has come across one of the most ostentatious homes he has ever seen.There is even a swimming pool adorned with frescoes in the style of Michelangelo.

What makes this raid so unusual is that the home does not belong to a multi-billionaire, but to the humble principle of an ordinary state school in Moscow.

“The investigation has initiated a court case regarding the confiscation of Konstantin Petrov’s property. It consists of a luxury house in the Moscow region, a three-room apartment in Moscow and four expensive cars,” says Viktoria Tsyplenkova of Russia’s investigative committee.

It took eight years for Petrov, who is on the run, to become this rich. He used clever schemes to steal from the school, the teachers, students’ parents and the state.

A recent study of everyday corruption claims teachers, doctors and traffic police officers are Russia’s worst bribe-takers.

Kirill Kabanov, head of the anti-corruption committee, explains that this is called “low-level corruption.”It is a bribe paid to settle everyday issues, also known as “everyday corruption.”

Bribe-takers extort money for traffic violations, provide medical paperwork and inflate school grades. People in Russia say they are born with corruption and die surrounded by it.

“Literally, from childhood onwards, people get used to the idea of breaking the law when they need to get some service. And that is an extremely corrupting attitude,” says Deputy Economy Minister Oleg Fomichyov.

The only positive findings of the research are that a growing number of people are consciously resisting giving bribes and there has been a marked fall in the number of corrupt deals being recorded. That might be partly because nowadays the average bribe is almost twice as costly as five years ago.

Most agree that to be effective, anti-corruption drives must start at the top.

“When accused of corruption among his subordinates, one former police boss said, ‘start with yourself and stop giving bribes out of principle, start doing things legally. It may be more difficult, but it’s worth a try,’” said Alexey Tretyakov from Moscow’s security and anti-corruption department.

Healthcare is the most corrupt sector, with bribes totaling over 1.2 billion dollars last year. However the average medical bribe is relatively small. Plus doctors face jail terms for accepting as little as $30.

“Everyday corruption is the result of the state’s failure to fulfill its social obligations. Tackling this low-level crime gives the impression that something is being done about corruption while the bigger fish go unchecked,” says Kirill Kabanov.

Analysts say everyday corruption accounts for just 10 per cent of the total. The rest is initiated not by citizens or businessmen, but by bureaucrats.

The Internet is full of videos that condemn bribe-takers. It is also full of stories about doctors and teachers arrested and tried. But when it comes to actual arrests of officials and bureaucrats – the statistics seem to be far less impressive.