“Suitcases of money: how to live on bribes in Russia”

In the minds of ordinary people, some officials and people in uniform are raking in money. Of course, this is not about official salaries, but bribes. According to the statistics of the Investigative Committee, this is partly true. According to law enforcement data, an average bribe was 451,000 roubles, and a bribe on a very large scale 7 million roubles. Low-income people can live a life time with such money.

In the first six months of 2018, an average bribe on a very large scale was 7 million roubles, the Investigative Committee informed This money would be enough to buy a mediocre one-room apartment in Moscow or four one-room apartments in Ulyanovsk. And it would be enough for a low-income retiree, who according to the state can live on 8,585 roubles per month, to get by 68 years of “comfortable” living.

An average bribe was 451,000 roubles. And while a Moscow banker can spend this much for a ring for his wife, almost 20 million Russians with substandard income believe this sum to be astronomical. In the second quarter of this year, the minimum monthly wage for working population was 11,280 roubles.

In Russia, a low-income person would make ends meet for more than three years for the amount of the average bribe, and a resident of Penza Region with the region’s average salary could “luxuriate” for a year and a half.

Interestingly, the average amount of bribe given differs from the one taken (this is due to a varying number of probes). For instance, upon results of the first six months of 2018, it amounted to 434,000 roubles, and on a very large scale “a palm was tickled” with 11 million roubles - enough to buy a new luxury sedan.

The average amount of a petty bribe is 2,715 roubles. In Moscow, with this money you can buy a monthly urban-transport pass and even a couple cups of coffee, and a thrifty person can manage to pay for utility services for a one-room apartment. In Kaliningrad or Ulan-Ude, you can rent a one-room apartment for a month or buy a monthly stash of food for one person with four of such bribes.

Of course, depending on the purpose and risk, bribes vary, and law enforcement agencies’ statistics is a meaningless average. For instance, the Investigative Committee reported that in Sochi, bribing judicial bodies’ officials to change a court’s decision allegedly cost 2 million roubles.

Recently, an investigation was launched into bribery during the reconstruction of Zimnyaya Vishnya Mall, where dozens of people tragically died. This was a bribe of 7 million roubles. Former Deputy Chairman of Nizhny Novgorod Regional Legislative Assembly Oleg Sorokin is accused of receiving monetised services worth 30 million roubles when he was the Mayor of Nizhny Novgorod.

Naturally, a bribe of 2,715 roubles or even the average one of 451,000 roubles cannot be compared with the large bribes that become known all over the country. Last year, the court found former Economic Development Minister Alexey Ulyukaev guilty of receiving a bribe of $2 million. This was more than 131 million roubles at the exchange rate on the day the official was arrested. And Former Kirov Region Governor Nikita Belykh was convicted for receiving €400,000.

Data of the National Anti-Corruption Committee of Russia show that the total of 6.7 billion roubles were taken as bribes in 2017, while in 2016 the sum was almost three times lower, 2.3 billion roubles. Those are only the sums established during investigations under Article 290 of the Criminal Code of Russia (bribe-taking). Under the earlier adopted law, the money seized from corrupted officials now can be referred to the budget of the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation.

Minimum Living Wage Level Bribe

In recent months, the bribery rate has accelerated: according to the Public Prosecution Service, there has been a 5.3% year-on-year increase in the number of bribery episodes in the first six months of 2018. In January-June 2016, the Investigative Committee investigated 3,562 cases of bribe-taking under Article 290 of the Criminal Code of Russia and 3,762 cases of bribe-giving under Article 291 of the Criminal Code of Russia. A new article on minor bribery was introduced to the Criminal Code in 2016; cases under it are investigated by the police as well. “Today, this article regulates offences with the sum of bribe not exceeding 10,000 roubles that earlier were under Articles 290 and 291 of the Criminal Code of Russia,” told Investigative Committee spokesperson Svetlana Petrenko.

Thus, in the first six months of 2017 the Investigative Committee investigated 1,450 cases of bribe-taking and 3,762 cases of bribe-giving. The statistical data for 2018 have barely changed - 1,440 and 1,174 offences respectively. As for the minor bribery, it has grown 13% year-on-year: the Investigative Committee held 2,000 such investigations in the first six months of 2017 and 2,265 in the same period of 2018.

“In H1 2018, 1,536 of 4,215 persons that committed corruption offences have been officials, including those of law enforcement,” notes Petrenko.

The half-year data of the Public Prosecution Service show that Moscow has become a leader in bribe-givers revealed, and Rostov Region in bribe-takers revealed. However, if calculated per capita, Kalmykia and Chechnya are the bribe-giving leaders, and Chukotka and Komi are bribe-taking ones.

Greyhound Puppies

“I tell everyone very plainly that I take bribes, but what kind of bribes? Why, greyhound puppies. That’s a totally different matter,” said Nikolay Gogol’s character in the comedy “The Inspector General”. “Well, puppies or else, bribes they are,” another character replied.

To the present day, bribes are given not only in cash, of course. Sometimes one could assess greyhound puppies. For instance, a Department Chief of Rospotrebnadzor was earlier arrested on suspicion at receiving of a bribe in services. The official had his teeth treated “for free” for 496 roubles.

It is indeed easier to take a bribe in services, provided loopholes in the law. This help some corrupted officials escape justice, for it is quite harder to discover and prove such a bribe.

“As for the practice, such cases are rarely investigated, for they rarely make it to the court. In such cases, the law is yet to be improved and still working to the benefit of the bribe-givers. It is easier for a criminal to escape justice if they take an intangible bribe, because today there is almost no means to prove it,” told Alim Bishenov, managing partner of BMS Law Firm.

In July 2017, Anatoly Vyborny, the State Duma’s Anti-Corruption Committee Deputy Chairman, presented a draft law “On Intangible Bribe” that introduced the term and provides for stricter punishment of up to four years of imprisonment.

In addition to the increased punishment for giving and taking of bribes, Vyborny suggested including of “any services of non-material nature” into the bribery article of the Criminal Code of Russia. Those could be granting of an academic degree; entering into a high-profile university; providing of employment to a relative; contribution to avoiding conscription, et cetera. The suggestion on including of the “rendering of non-material services” in Article 204 (commercial bribery) and Article 290 (bribe-taking) of the Criminal Code of Russia was backed by the Public Prosecution Service. This August, Aslan Yusufov, Chief of the Department for Supervision over Enforcement of Anti-Corruption Legislation of the Public Prosecution Service, told that the draft law had been prepared but not heard yet.

“We have no punishment for an intangible bribe; that is when a bribe is given not in cash but in non-material benefits of no monetary estimate. You are provided with new windows in your summer house - there is a price for that. But when you get praised in a newspaper or have your academic paper written for you, how to evaluate that?” he said.

However, this kind of bribery is harder both to reveal and to define. What is an intangible bribe exactly? The Vedomosti newspaper wrote that, in 2017, a Presidential Administration official noted that the suggestion to recognise a non-material benefit as a bribe is hard to implement in Russia, for there comes a risk of excessive use.