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Russian legal system: in urgent need of reforms
September 9, 2010 15:13

Another ugly scandal convulse Russian police. The head of the Directorate for Combating Economic Crimes and three police officers in Siberian Zabaikalsky Territory are suspected of taking bribes worth more than $450,000, a spokesman for the local investigation committee said.

This time "law servants" helped local business. The suspects are accused of sheltering a local businessmen who exported lumber products to China in exchange for money. The officials were reportedly charging "clients" between $97 and $292 as a fee for one freight wagon of lumber.

It took investigators 10 months to carry out a preliminary investigation. Two police officers have been detained, while the economic crimes directorate's head and another officer have signed a recognizance not to leave. A criminal case is to be submitted to the court after the charges are approved by the local prosecutor.

The state with Russia's police and other legal departments would be ridiculous if it were not so sad. After a series of high-profile police scandals, including the random shooting of several people in a supermarket by an off-duty police officer in April 2009, the situation has become a matter of considerable concern.

In response to growing criticism and people's unrest, sometimes even armed, President Medvedev launched a large-scale reform of the police in December 2009. The reform would prohibit people from entering the police force if they are alcoholics, drug addicts, or have criminal records. Public security departments are to be switched to federal funding, while police officers' salaries are to be increased by 30 percent at the expense of cutting the number of policemen.

The reform would "require significant budget allocations," the President confessed in June. "Spending $2.7 billion in 2012 and $4.3 billion in 2013 for interior ministry reform and increased allowances has been included into the Russian budget," he said.

In the meantime, the Russian Justice Ministry is preparing far-reaching proposals for reform of the country's judicial system. Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov called for an all-round reform of Russia's legal system, including the investigative process and courts. He complained that too many unprofessional people joined the bar during the 1990s when Russia was experiencing radical social and economic transformation after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Today the role of lawyers is insufficient, it should be more serious, more important. The lawyer should work with his head," Konovalov said.

"To work with one's head" is, in fact, a tag line for the front banners of the most Russian government institutions, because radical transformation after the collapse of the Soviet Union engaged all spheres of Russian society.

The question is whether money is the only thing required for changing the state, or some deeper reforms of Russian people's mentality are necessary as well as of institutions.


Max Yakuba


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