Russian Bribery Tops $33 Billion a Year

Tired of corruption in government? Don't move to Russia.

Officials there accepted a whopping $33.5 billion in bribes from Russian companies last year, according to a new Russian government report cited in the St. Petersburg Times.

For perspective: Former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in prison after pleading guilty in the biggest bribery scandal in the history of the U.S. Congress, admitted taking $2 million in bribes over several years.

"Russia cannot be considered a country dominated by the rule of law, but by the rule of man," said Sarah Mendelson, an expert on Russian corruption at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The paper did not report the study's methodology, and the Russian embassy did not respond to an inquiry about the report.

Mendelson's group performs surveys in Russia on the topic, and has found corruption is believed to have gotten much worse over the last eight years. Other studies support those perceptions.

In 2002, Russia was ranked 71st in perceived corruption by the global anti-corruption group Transparency International. This year, the group ranked it 143rd. (The United States was 16th in 2002; it has since dropped to 20th.)

Though she couldn't vouch for the numbers in the new Russian report, Mendelson agreed that corruption in Russia is huge – and endemic, she said, because the country not only lacks a functioning system to prosecute wrongdoers, it also lacks ways to find and expose them.

"The entire way the Russian system has developed in the past eight years has been to eliminate investigative journalism," she said, "and in some cases, investigative journalists."

Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, has vowed an extensive campaign to curb the problem. But Mendelson and other experts believe there are open questions about how aggressively Medvedev will tackle the issue.

That point was underscored by a recent report in Spain's ABC newspaper. Reporting on secretly-recorded conversations between alleged Russian mobsters made during a Spanish government investigation, the paper said the men viewed Medvedev's presidency positively, and believed it guaranteed them a good business climate.

To complicate matters further, the new report's author, Russian Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bestrykin, was the subject of an expose last week claiming he was running an illegal business in the Czech Republic. Bestrykin has denied the charge.