Journalists are always looking for the one specific concrete case that best embodies a widespread, but hard-to-nail-down issue. Take corruption in Russia. Everyone knows it's all over the place. President Dmitry Medvedev has declared the problem "systemic."
One NGO has estimated that up to one-fourth of the money the government spends on state orders each year -- up to $40 billion -- is lost due to corruption, while another estimates that about 30 percent of the population has had direct experience with official corruption within the last year. In surveys asking which state workers are most corrupt, Russians name the police, the courts, prosecutors, customs officials, and workers in health care and education.
Maybe Novosibirsk traffic cop Aleksandr Bugurnov will become the poster child for this problem. Now, the traffic police are notorious in Russia for their rapacious corruption -- drivers pulled over by them are completely at their mercy and are usually more than happy to avoid trouble by contributing to the cop's family budget. But in Bugurnov's case, the story has a twist.
One night in 2006, Bugurnov stopped a car and determined the driver was drunk. He had the driver taken into custody and initiated legal measures in keeping with Russia's zero-tolerance laws. But when the legal proceedings began, it was Bugurnov who found himself in the dock.
You see, the driver was Vasily Savitsky, an official in the city prosecutor's office. The prosecutor's office deemed it necessary to prosecute Bugurnov for "exceeding his authority" over the incident.
Now, the ties between local prosecutor's offices and local courts in Russia are also well-known. Medvedev himself has deplored the lack of judicial independence in Russia, even as his government -- and Putin's before him -- has benefited from the country's improbably high prosecution rate.
"Guilty," pronounced the court in this case as well, ordering that Bugurnov be dismissed from the police and handing down a four-year suspended prison sentence.
In 2007, however, an oblast-level appeals court overturned the verdict, ruling that Savitsky had no immunity and that Bugurnov had committed no crime.
Today, the story ended -- maybe. Another city court ended Bugurnov's three-year ordeal by ruling in his favor in an appeal against his firing. The court also ordered that Bugurnov be given 100,000 rubles ($3,830) -- of the 1 million he sought -- in compensation. The court also ordered the state to compensate him for lost wages and legal expenses.
Bugurnov told Interfax that he is satisfied with the ruling and does not plan further legal action. "Thank God, everything is over, and now I can simply go back to work in peace." Savitsky continues to work as well. Something tells me there might well be another chapter or two of this saga yet to come.
-- Robert Coalson