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Russia: St. Petersburg Newspaper Catches Corrupt Officials

St. Petersburg, 25 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Two reporters from the St. Petersburg daily newspaper "Chas Pik" say they baited a corruption trap -- and caught officials of the city's Moskovsky District.

The newspaper reported that catch in a series of articles that began earlier this month and is continuing. "Chas Pik" reported that officials in the trade inspectorate of the Moskovsky District demanded a bribe of $200 from reporters Yevgeny Zubaryov and Marina Sedova, posing as entrepreneurs seeking a trade license.

The journalists reported that they recorded the encounter with hidden microphones. In their reports, they identified by name officials and middleman firms involved.

The City Prosecutor's Office and Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's Finance Committee have begun investigations of the reports. The newspaper said its stories, along with an appeal to the public for more information, have generated about 30 telephone calls a day from citizens and businesspeople reporting corruption.

One of the writers, Zubaryov, told our correspondent that entrepreneurs in Moskovsky had called him complaining that they were required to pay monthly bribes to the trade inspectorate to keep their licenses. He said the Moskovsky District was the only one in the city requiring monthly renewals. The norm, he said, is once a year.

When Zubaryov and Sedova applied for licenses, they reported, officials told them they had to make -- in the officials' secretly recorded words -- "a voluntary donation" of $200. It was to be paid in cash at the office of a private firm on Prospekt Gagarina. The firm, "Chas Pik" reported, is chaired by the brother of a Moskovsky District Trade Inspectorate official. In follow-up stories, "Chas Pik" identified three more firms involved in the scheme.

Zubaryov said that with reports from private citizens flowing in, the newspaper plans additional stories in the series. He said there will be reports from other districts also.

"We don't want to appear that we are doing this for political reasons. We have no political agenda here," said Zubarynov.

Zubaryov told our correspondent that he has heard that Moskovsky District officials have stopped demanding bribes since the stories appeared.

"These people are not afraid of the militia or the prosecutor; they are afraid of the newspaper. We consider this a big victory."