“More than mere bribery”

Corruption in Russia and beyond has become far more complex

<< No. 24 (257), 19 June 2017 >>

Kalikh andreiANDREI KALIKH, independent journalist and a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum’s “Fighting Transborder Corruption” working group, talks about how the endemic corruption of Russian business, politics and law enforcement has spread to the West –- and is becoming a global phenomenon.

Corruption has long since moved beyond national governments: corrupt links cross borders, and we’re not talking here just about business links, but links between officials involved with business as well. And in general, corruption is not a question of mere sweeteners, bribes transported across borders in suitcases. It’s become much more complex than mere bribery and the very narrow and one-sided definition used in Russian law.

For our kleptocrats, the gain from transborder corruption means, one, an opportunity to salt their assets away in the West and, two second, the opportunity to work with associates there. This is a unique situation, consisting of two interlocking processes – on the one hand, the export of Russian corruption to Europe, or the entire globe, has led to Customs officers and business people being infected by this virus. On the other hand, foreign officials and corporations invest resources in Russian projects, because they know that Russia means easy money.

A unique situation, made up of two interlocking processes

 In other words, Russia offers its corruptive attraction to the whole world: Look, it says, You’ll find your projects very easy to carry off here, and if you also say nice things about us, you’ll be rewarded and get lots of preferential treatment. Given that the harshness of our laws is mitigated by their non-observance and is in any case only aimed at “outsiders”, for “insiders” the freedom to spend money as they like is much greater in Russia. The reason international corruption is so successful in Russia is that here it’s easier to infringe the law and ignore environmental norms and the rights of the local population – just like in Africa, for example.

Transborder corruption also has a crucial political side to it.

Russia has been actively bribing European politicians and corporations for many years. Many Russian officials are convinced that creating a group of political supporters in the west is only possible with the help of money or preferential treatment: setting up investment projects in Russia, for example. But, in any case, it is important to set up a support group like this in political and business circles.

There’s a concrete and tied and tested example: the financing of right-populist European political parties and movements, interference in elections and operations aimed against anti-right forces. In France, Hungary and several other countries enough documents have been published on this issue for it to mentioned openly.

A pool of tame supporters of Russia’s political system is created in the West – people who may not necessarily need to speak well of Russia, but at any rate do not criticise it. They enjoy the profitable contracts and dodgy tenders that they themselves helped to devise and are heavily involved in. This is a particularly important area of transborder corruption that needs to be combated because it creates support for Russia’s political system. …

Corruption has no positive effects

There are market researchers here in Russia who seriously believe that corruption has a positive effect. And indeed, if you look at it from a strictly practical point of view, you feel that corruption makes business more efficient, which is of course a pure illusion. In the first place, corrupt business people are tied hand and foot. Their business is not under their control: the authorities have a file on each one of them and use it. In the second, corruption creates unfairness: those who give and take bribes live (to a certain extent) better than everyone else.

Everyone else – those who can’t or won’t pay bribes – is a victim of corruption. So I really wouldn’t want to talk about this phenomenon having any positive effects. …

Trump had close Russian connections before his election

As regards Trump, it’s worth saying that even the circumstantial details published, for example, in Forbes Magazine, about how half the apartments in Trump’s “Towers” are owned by Russian Mafiosi and business people, show that he had close connections with Russia even before his election as president.

That was why Russia thought it had Trump on the hook: it was betting on him and pleased when he won, but as we know now it was just an illusion. To be honest, if I were the American electorate, I would have postponed this election, simply because of the well-founded suspicions of outside interference in them. …

Western prosecutors cannot follow the trail of dirty money

Given Russia’s endemic corruption and the absence of independent public prosecutors, courts and investigators, Western prosecutors are formally barred from following the trail of corrupt money from Russia.

They are also formally forbidden to initiate any investigation of the sources of dirty money in their own countries, as they are not responsible for the “predicate offence”, when the original crime – the embezzlement of public funds, for example — was committed in Russia.

Translated by Liz Barnes

These excerpts are republished
by kind permission of OpenDemocracyRussia