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Corruption Watch: May 8, 2003

8 May 2003, Volume 3, Number 16
Police in Sofia, in cooperation with law-enforcement officials from Spain, Germany, and Belgium, arrested four members of an international stolen-car ring on 15 April that allegedly imported stolen cars from Spain, Italy, Germany, France and other countries into Bulgaria. According to "Transitions Online" of 23 April, 24 Bulgarian nationals were implicated in the ring's activities, including Interior Ministry and customs officials. The operation, code named "Adriatica," smuggled some 80-90 luxury model cars, 48 of which have been identified and 22 recovered.

The four Bulgarians arrested in Operation Adriatica were suspected of forging car-registration papers and selling the stolen cars for one-third of their market prices. Police and customs officials in the southwestern town of Kulata, on Bulgaria's border with Greece, had assisted the smugglers for the past year, investigators said.

Customs chief Assen Assenov was reportedly fired for suspected involvement in the smuggling operation, while another customs official and two police officers implicated in the scandal have not yet been convicted. RK

Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 26 April testified before the special parliamentary commission set up in January to investigate the bribery scandal dubbed "Rywingate" by Polish media. The commission is probing allegations by "Gazeta Wyborcza" that prominent film producer Lew Rywin sought a $17.5 million bribe in July 2002 from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, on behalf of Miller's Democratic Left Alliance in return for favorable changes to a media bill (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January 2003). Miller's testimony, which was covered live by Polish Television, continued on 28 April. Miller told the commission that he did not send Rywin to solicit a bribe from Agora, as alleged by Agora Chairwoman Wanda Rapaczynska in a note for "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, following her conversation with Rywin in mid-July. Rywin allegedly repeated his offer to Michnik on 22 July, but without mentioning Miller's name (this conversation was secretly taped by Michnik and published by "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 27 December).

"From the very start, the whole matter seemed to me to be so absurd that it did not seem to merit serious attention," Miller told the commission. "At the same time, however, as transpired from Adam Michnik's words and Wanda Rapaczynska's note, Lew Rywin had cited my plenipotentiary powers in this matter.... Nobody knows better than I do how unambiguously lacking in any basis what can be read in this regard in Wanda Rapaczynska's note. For me the content of this text is absurd, from the sphere of fantasy and delusion."

Miller said there was no need to send Rywin to solicit a bribe from anybody in July 2002, since the government and Agora had already agreed on a compromise version of the media bill.

Miller told the commission that in August, Jerzy Urban, editor in chief of the "Nie" weekly -- who, according to Miller, was "well-informed" about Rywin's bribe offer -- urged him to make the Rywingate scandal public. "I replied that this was an absurd story and it was difficult to make something so absurd public and promote an atmosphere of gossip, sensationalism, etc.," Miller said. "And I told him that since he [Urban] knew so much about this case, he could make it public, too." According to Urban, who testified before the commission in March, Miller, explained his motives for not making the bribery scandal public: "The damage might be greater than the advantage, because people might think about this as a confirmation, and the resulting impression will be negative."

In expounding on why he did not report Rywin's bribe offer as a crime to prosecutors, Miller said: "In my deep conviction, informing of a crime requires an appropriate justification and the manifestation of circumstances rendering probable the manifestation of a criminal event.... I judged that this story was improbable and not credible."

Miller vowed before the commission that he "will not rest" until he has clarified why he himself and his party have been caught up in Rywingate.

Most Polish commentators agree that Miller -- in contrast to his earlier declaration that he will tell the commission "interesting things" -- did not add anything of substance to the Rywingate case on 26 April. Miller's testimony on 28 April turned out to be even more insubstantial than the previous appearance, and ended in scandal.

On 28 April, Miller was questioned by only one lawmaker, Zbigniew Ziobro of the opposition Law and Justice party. Ziobro was primarily interested in why Miller did not notify prosecutors after he was informed of Rywin's attempt to solicit a bribe, and repeated this question in a multitude of variations. Miller was essentially repeating what he said two days earlier or was repeating himself when Ziobro asked the same or similar questions.

Polish Radio presented the conclusion of the questioning on 28 April:

MILLER: The behavior of deputy Ziobro can only by described in one word: despicable.

ZIOBRO: I can see that the prime minister doesn't intend to reply to questions, instead, he uses invectives. I understand that seeking the truth can be painful and unpleasant at times.

MILLER: You're nobody, Deputy Ziobro.

It is unclear when the parliamentary commission might continue its questioning of the prime minister. Seven more lawmakers are waiting to ask Miller questions. According to the head of the commission, Tomasz Nalecz, the questioning will probably continue after 8 June, when the EU referendum takes place. Jan Maksymiuk

On the night of 9 September 1999, an apartment building on Guryanov Street in Moscow suddenly exploded, killing 100 residents and wounding 164. Four days later, another explosion devastated another apartment building in Moscow -� this time killing 124 people, including 12 children. Soon after these events and and an explosion in Volgodonsk in which 19 people died, Russian police announced that the acts were the work of Chechen rebels. At the time, a number of Russian websites and newspapers speculated that these explosions might be the work of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). In 2002, Aleksandr Lytvinenko, a former FSB officer who worked to combat organized crime and who defected from Russia and settled in England, wrote a book called "The FSB Bombs Russia" (Liberty Publishing House, New York), in which he claimed the FSB was responsible for the blasts in an attempt to bolster Vladimir Putin's election campaign. Joining in the charges against the FSB was The self-exiled Russian businessman Boris Berezovskii joined in pointing the finger at the FSB, continuing to blame Russian President Putin for these acts of terror.

On 30 April, RIA-Novosti press agency reported that the Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow completed its investigation into the blasts and found that "foreign citizens Khattab and Amu Umar, who, according to secret service information, were eliminated during the counterterrorism operation in Chechnya are the organizers of the terrorist acts.

"The involvement of Achemez Gochiyayev, Khakim Abaev, Denis Saitakov, brothers Zaur and Timur Batchaev, Yusuf Krymshamkhalov, and Alam Dekkushev in the crimes has been ascertained," RIA-Novosti reported.

The Prosecutor-General's Office reported that Zaur Batchaev was killed in Chechnya, his brother Timur in Georgia, the agency added, while Gochiyayev and Abaev are still at large and have been put on the international wanted list. Some information suggests they might be hiding in Georgia, the Prosecutor-General Office said, according to the agency.

It added that Krymshamkhalov and Dekkushev were arrested and are at a Moscow detention center, "charged with participating in an illegal armed formation, terrorism perpetrated repeatedly as members of an organized group, premeditated murder under aggravating circumstances, and the illegal manufacture and storage of arms."

The nationality of alleged plotters Khattab and Amu Umar were not disclosed by the Prosecutor-General's Office, nor did prosecutors provide any closer details of their deaths. RK

Speaking at a meeting of law-enforcement officials from Russia's far eastern regions, Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said an emergency situation exists in the region and "criminal structures are continuing to infiltrate enterprises' management bodies as well as government agencies," ITAR-TASS reported on 25 April. Referring to recent accusations of high-level corruption in the fisheries industry in the region, Gryzlov said profits from the illegal turnover in the fishing industry alone is approaching that from the trafficking of narcotics.

In a related story, "The Moscow Times" on 7 April reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was being sought for questioning by the Prosecutor-General's Office over his possible role in a crab-fishing scheme that "has already netted the deputy head of the State Fisheries Committee and has ties to murdered Magadan Governor Valentin Tsvetkov, who was slain on Moscow's Novii Arbat in broad daylight in October 2002."

According to "The Moscow Times": "Prosecutors say they are investigating how Magadan's state fisheries-research institute acquired a scientific quota for an additional 2,200 tons of crab between September and December -- then sold the catch abroad for $6.2 million, [allegedly] 'causing grave damage to the state.'"

Kasyanov's office declined to comment on the report, but a source close to the prime minister reportedly told "The Moscow Times" that prosecutors have not seized any documents nor set foot in the White House recently: "'Kasyanov has never received an official request to appear for questioning, and no documents whatsoever have been confiscated,' the source said." RK