MOSCOW, December 29 (RIA Novosti)
Children of Judges and Heads of State Corporations to Study in Russia
A Just Russia will forward to the State Duma amendments to the law on corruption to prohibit the children of officials, judges and heads of state corporations from attending educational institutions abroad. United Russia had previously advanced but never formalized a similar initiative, although the measure did not cover judges or heads of state corporations.
Duma Deputy Oleg Nilov, who formulated the amendments, said that judges’ salaries would increase substantially in 2013, to a level sufficient to pay tuition for their children at foreign universities. As for the heads of state corporations, restrictions concerning their children’s studies abroad should have been introduced long ago. Moreover, he said, judges and heads of state corporations should be included under the ban on having bank accounts and property abroad, which the State Duma has approved for officials in the first reading.
“For some reason, the chair of the State Duma Committee on Security and Corruption forgot to mention the children of judicial officials and top managers of state corporations, whose salaries are paid from the federal budget,” Nilov said. “The monthly income for some heads of state corporations is several times higher than the president’s salary. And if all children go to study abroad, our education system will be ruined.”
This week, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny published information about the daughters of State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak (United Russia), one of whom is studying in the UK and the other in Switzerland. After that, some United Russia members said that state officials should not have the right to send their children abroad. Vyacheslav Lysakov, a leader of the National People’s Front, supported the proposal of A Just Russia, but that his own proposals were more lenient.
Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information, criticized the idea.
“Even a good idea can be carried to the point of absurdity,” he said. “In my opinion, the proposed amendments would violate the Constitution and their approval could affect honest state officials who believe that their children would receive a better education abroad.”
“Corrupt officials will find a loophole even in such a tough law,” Mukhin said. “They may go as far as register their children as adopted by other parents.”
Political analyst Dmitry Orlov, a member of United Russia’s Supreme Council, agrees that the proposed sanctions are excessively harsh.
“This is interference in private life. If people make their money honestly, they should be able to send their children to study in any country they want,” Orlov said.
Most officials, including the country’s top leaders, were previously secretive about where their children study. One exception is Kirov Region Governor Nikita Belykh, who said recently that he planned to send his son to a school in the UK, a disclosure that prompted many highly critical comments.
Russian Government Embroiled in Anticorruption Campaign
This is the first time ever that Russian ministers have been fired over corruption allegations.
The last two months of 2012 were punctuated by a series of high-profile corruption scandals in the Cabinet, with the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and accusations against Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik causing the most lasting repercussions.
Although both cases involved billion-ruble losses to federal coffers, neither of the ministers even got so much as questioned by the police on cases against their subordinates.
Serdyukov’s resignation was announced on November 6 when President Vladimir Putin offered the top job at the Defense Ministry to Sergei Shoigu. “Given the situation that has arisen at the Defense Ministry, to create the conditions for an objective investigation into all the issues, I have decided to release Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov from his post,” Putin said at a meeting.
This was an unprecedented decision in Russia, where ministers mired in scandals were never actually fired – they were moved to another office, or resigned for some innocent reason. Putin has never fired a single key player from his team over a corruption case.
Serdyukov appeared to be involved in fraud at the Oboronservis corporation, which sold government property it managed to affiliated companies at a fraction of their true value. Investigators believe Oboronservis management short-changed the treasury of 7 billion rubles. The Defense Minister also found himself amid a personal scandal after investigators exposed his relationship with one of the female officials involved in the fraud – Yevgenia Vasilyeva who headed the property management department at the ministry. Although the media did not rule out that the disgraced ex-minister would be questioned on her case, this never happened.
One of the five officials facing criminal charges is Yekaterina Smetanova, head of the Expert legal support center, who agreed to cooperate with the investigation and gave evidence against Vasilyeva. Yet Smetanova was taken into custody while Vasilyeva was put under house arrest. On December 21, the media said one of the suspects agreed to give evidence against the ministry’s high-placed officials including Serdyukov. On December 27 the news came that the ex-minister had been summoned for questioning.
The investigation continues, although the public’s interest is waning, just as it has in other criminal cases implicating high-ranking officials.
One such story involves an embezzlement case at Rosagroleasing that incriminates Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik. The state company established to support Russian farming had a shortfall of 39 billion rubles. Its current managers claimed the money disappeared when Skrynnik headed the company. A film exposing her alleged wrongdoing was shown on Channel One in late November. Skrynnik denied all the accusations and threatened to sue the filmmakers, but never did. Although law enforcement agencies have leaked that they had enough evidence to bring charges against her, they never officially summoned her for questioning.
Another high-profile scandal involving embezzlement of the government funds allocated for events connected with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit seems to have died down completely, although police say it caused damages totaling 224 million rubles and resulted in the arrest of a deputy minister.
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