Anti-corruption or consolidation of power?
Last week's mass firing of custom officials, about a dozen FSB officers and even potentially some Upper House Senators was sold as a move to rid the Russian government of corrupt officials. The Kremlin alleged that they exposed in an organized intra-govern-ment criminal ring that skimmed billions off the top of customs revenues.
But things may not be what they seem.
According to an article published by Novaya Gazeta, the dossiers of the ring's members just do not add up that is, they don't make a ring. "They come from different sides of the woods," the newspaper quoted a source in the customs service as saying. They have too much political distance between them to be part of a unified organized crime ring. No one's saying they aren't corrupt, it's just that a shad- ow alliance between them is not likely. The one thing that ties them together is that they are all somehow connected to customs and border control organizations. Some of the accused are part of anti-terrorism programs, while others are in charge of monitoring contraband.
The most likely motive for the shake-out was a transfer of control over billions in revenues that is, handing all the key posts connected to customs to Putin's henchmen. One has to remember that the customs service is a gold mine, both money-wise and power-wise. Russia's domestic industries are still essentially screwed. The country is heavily dependent on imports of consumer goods. As a result, Russia's customs revenues bring in 40% of the country's budget revenues.
It is not hard to see that control of these funds means serious clout.
The fact that Andrei Belyaminov, the newly appointed head of the customs service, is Putin's longtime buddy and former East Berlin KGB bagman doesn't leave many people to wondering what the real meaning of this "anti-corruption" drive is all about. Just another power grab in preparation for the 2008 elections, and old-fashioned greed.
Kinda reminds me something Mayor Luzhkov said a few years ago: In Russia, a change of power doesn't mean that the wealth is distributed differently; instead, the same old pie is divvied up the same corrupt way to a new cadre of boyars.
Zhirinovsky doing the loser dance.
Zhirinovsky finally snagged for libel?
A Belgorod Regional Court ruled against LDPR Leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in favor of Belgorod governor Evgeniy Savechenko, awarding the latter 80 million rubles in damages.
Last October, live on local TV, Zhirinovsky accused Savechenko of falsifying the election results, as well as being the kingpin of an underground criminal organization with millions stashed in offshore accounts. Savechenko then filed suit against Zhirinovsky and the court demanded that the LDPR leader provide proof for his statements. He failed to do so and the court ruled that Savechenko's honor and reputation was damaged as a result of Zhirinovsky's unfounded statements.
Izvestia also reported that Zhirinovsky wasn't planning on paying.
Vice-speaker Vyacheslav Volodin being investigated for illegal earnings?
Earlier this month deputies from the minority Communist and People's Will SEPR parties filed a request with Russia's Attorney General Vladimir Ustinov the same guy who initiated the case against Yukos to look into the assets of Vyacheslav Volodin, vice chairman of United Russia, Vedmosti reported. Their request came after Finans magazine rated Volodin's assets at 2.7 billion rubles, making him the 351st richest Russian. The authors of the request were skeptical that Volodin could have climbed to such riches on a deputy's monthly salary of 70,000 rubles. The request came on the heels of a letter written by Georgi Dzhalavtyan, a former minister of transportation of the Saratov region, which accused Volodin of skimming 5% off the top of the federal funds he secured for the region in 2002 and 2003. Dzhalavtyan himself is now behind bars on fraud chargers and wrote the letter as a way of coming clean of all his wrongs.