Accessibility links

Breaking News

Corruption Watch: February 28, 2002

28 February 2002, Volume 2, Number 8
The trial of 11 Iranians charged with corruption, which began on 20 January, has initiated a discussion in the press about the independence of the Iranian judicial system and the role of the media in such trials. The trial thus continues to be a battleground between "reformers" and the conservative court system.

The Tehran newspaper "Affab-e Yazd" on 18 February quoted the head of the judiciary as saying, "We are under pressure." This prompted the newspaper to write an editorial entitled "Where Are The Pressures Coming From?"

"Perhaps it is not unexpected for an organization [the judiciary] dealing with complaints that it is sometimes forced to deal with powerful people and to face some pressures, but insightful politicians in the world have thought of solutions to reduce these pressures to the minimum, and usually judicial decisions are respected in countries," the paper said. "For instance; in recent months some judiciary officials attacked the critics of the judiciary, and one official from the judiciary even quite outspokenly asked the reformists to learn lessons from the case of America and not weaken the judiciary."

Among the 10 men and one woman before the court are three sons of prominent conservative clerics. Also in the dock is the former head of the state Export Guarantee Fund and head of the foreign-exchange department of Refah, a state bank. Observers report that this might account for some of the alleged pressure being brought on the judiciary -- to prevent favorable treatment for these defendants.

IRNA news agency on 18 February reported that Ahmad Tavakkoli, a professor at Shahid Beheshti University, called for effective measures and policies to deal with cases of financial corruption and punish those responsible "without considering their posts in government." He went on to tell students at Isfahan Medical University that officials had taken huge bribes from the defendant, Shahrahm Jazayeri, who is the accused in a 38 billion-rial ($100 million) fraud case. Tavakkoli was quoted as saying that the anticorruption campaign should be led by President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, for whom the political implications are of critical importance. He said those involved in cases of financial corruption should be tried in full fairness and justice without discriminatory behavior during their court trial, implying that the conservative court system might discriminate in favor of the sons of conservative clerics.

In addition to the discussion about reformist pressure on the judiciary to provide a fair trial, the judiciary complained about the Islamic Republic of Iran broadcasting the proceedings of the trail. The Tehran newspaper "Entekhab" on 6 February published an interview with a Judiciary spokesman about the broadcasting of the trial. The newspaper's correspondent prompted the spokesman, Mir-Mohammad-Sadeqi, with the following: "It is said that the publication of the discussions at the trial of Jazayeri has been against the law, and, in this respect, the court that is dealing with the case has committed an offense." The spokesman responded: "The dissemination of the court proceedings by the media has nothing to do with the judiciary." He went on to say: "We have said on numerous occasions that according to Article 188 of the Penal Code, the open status of the trial does not mean that the media has the license to publish the proceedings of the court before the verdict has been decided." Mir-Mohammad-Sadeqi added: "During an interview several months ago, I condemned this trend as [a] 'trial by the media' that leads to the indictment of individuals in the media instead of in front of a judge." (Roman Kupchinsky)

What is projected as a large crop of opium poppy in Afghanistan, which supplies 90 percent of the heroin in Britain, will lead to a huge increase in heroin availability there in 2002, "The Guardian" reported on 21 February. The report stated: "The expectation is that the 2002 crop will be equivalent to the bumper one of three years ago, which yielded 4,600 tonnes of raw opium.

"Deep concern within law enforcement circles, particularly MI5, MI6 and customs, has been reinforced by the latest assessment of the UN office for drug control and crime prevention, based in Vienna [see "RFE/RL Crime, Corruption, and Terrorism Watch," 6 December 2001 and 21 February 2002].

"Its field workers have just finished a study in Afghanistan and early analysis of their work has revealed that 'substantial regrowing has taken place in several provinces.' A full report will be published 27 February."

Joining other experts, UN spokesman Kemal Kurspahic recommended urgent action to prevent the crop from being harvested in March. Kurspahic told "The Guardian": "If we don't stop the flow of drugs then everything else will have been in vain," and added: "If there was no new production in Afghanistan this year then shortages in Europe would be felt by the end of the year. We don't have much time -- we have a window of opportunity. Sustaining the ban would present the most promising ever development in drug control."

While Afghanistan's interim government, led by Hamid Karzai, last month introduced an extensive ban on poppy growing, the dearth of law enforcement outside the capital, Kabul, has rendered the prohibition meaningless.

"Post-war Afghanistan does not have a functioning law enforcement capacity," Kurspahic said, according the "The Guardian." "We have to set up a law enforcement and drug control mechanism as soon as we can. We cannot do much in the aid sector until we have security."

One Whitehall official was quoted by the paper as saying that "enormous pressure" is being put on Karzai's government by the UN and western governments but that the situation is "immensely complicated in the current political situation" because of fears the issue could destabilize the fragile administration. "It is a political nightmare which could undermine the whole peace process," a western intelligence source told "The Guardian." (Roman Kupchinsky)

The United States has stepped up pressure on Belarus over allegations of illegal arms trading, saying it had credible evidence the country was selling arms to countries or groups supporting terrorism, Reuters reported on 25 February. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, who headed a State Department delegation on a three-day visit to Minsk, told reporters on 21 February that the United States has hard evidence that Belarus is involved in arms smuggling. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry responded angrily the next day, saying the United States has failed to provide any proof to back up the charges. Minsk insisted that it has complied with all international regulations on arms trading. Pifer, who met with Belarusian Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau, Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou, and other officials, said the United States also has evidence that Belarus trained Iraqi military personnel to work with S-300 missiles. (Roman Kupchinsky)

The United Civic Party has asked Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou to make public the information on Belarus' arms sales that was passed to the recent U.S. congressional delegation, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 February. Speaking on Belarusian Television on 16 February, Khvastou said the Belarusian side released "data, facts, and figures" regarding its arms trade to the delegation. The United Civic Party expressed its hope that the Foreign Ministry will be "open and honest not only before U.S. congressmen but also before its own compatriots." United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka commented that Belarusians do not know either "where the sold [Belarusian] submachine guns fire" or for what purposes "the colossal sums" earned from weapons trade are spent or by whom ("RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002).

Georgia's Anticorruption Council has rejected a bill that would give President Eduard Shevardnadze the right to reschedule enterprises' debts and repayment schedules on state loans, Georgian TV reported on 22 February. Council Secretary Mirian Gogiashvili said the council opposes not only this bill but such rescheduling efforts in general because of inherent risks. "We believe that the introduction of a rescheduling mechanism certainly carries a risk of corruption. It will result in biased decisions. We do not believe the country needs this law. Instead, we need to draw up a bankruptcy mechanism," said Gogiashvili.

Roman Gotsiridze, the head of parliamentary Budget Office, told Georgian TV: "Contrary to demagogic statements, the proposed rescheduling applies not only to some strategic facilities, such as the metallurgical plant Azoti and others, but to any enterprise that decides to apply for it. The debts of up to 80 enterprises have been rescheduled. This includes cases in which the rescheduled amount was 5,000 or 10,000 laris. How these debts were rescheduled is a different matter. However, the main problem is that they are currently demanding that not only tax debts be rescheduled but also loan repayments. To put it simply, about 60 enterprises in Georgia have borrowed 52 million laris from the state budget, of which only 15 million has been repaid. They want to create a mechanism for writing off such debts or deferring repayments by 15 years." (Roman Kupchinsky)

Nugzar Sadzhaya died in hospital in Tbilisi on 25 February of apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds from his personal pistol, Caucasus Press reported. He reportedly shot himself in his office at the state chancellery, which was immediately cordoned off by troops, AP reported. Sadzhaya, 60, was a long-time close associate of President Shevardnadze's, who blamed his suicide on "moral terrorism," according to Reuters. Last week, parliament Deputy Boris Kakubava, who heads one of the organizations that represent displaced persons from Abkhazia, accused Sadzhaya, along with intelligence service head Avtandil Ioseliani, of masterminding the assassinations of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, National Democratic Party Chairman Gia Chanturia, and Deputy Interior Minister Gia Gulua, ITAR-TASS reported. Observers questioned whether a man who spent decades working with the KGB would be so sensitive as to kill himself unless the allegations leveled against him could be corroborated. The newspaper "Akhali epokha" on 23 February claimed, without identifying its sources, that Russian security services "are waging a secret war" against Sadzhaya, whom they suspected of clandestine contacts with the Chechen resistance. Sadzhaya denied in October 1999 conducting secret negotiations with former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev ("RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002).

Indonesian police said on 13 February that they arrested two Iraqis who allegedly belong to a people-smuggling ring that was responsible for the death of at least 350 asylum-seekers last year, AFP reported on 13 February. Both men, now detained at national police headquarters in Jakarta, are Iraqi refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), police spokesman Major General Saleh Saaf said. "We have suspicions that both men belong to the people-smuggling ring led by Abu Quassey," Saaf said.

Quassey, whose real name according to police is Centin Kaya Nugun, is a Turkish national detained by police after some 350 mostly Iraqi asylum-seekers drowned in the Java Sea as they headed for Australia in October. Only 44 survived the tragedy. Survivors of the disaster claimed to have paid him $2,000-4000 each to be taken to Australia. They also alleged that police officers forced them on to the boat, beating those who tried to disembark when they realized its decrepit condition. Thousands of people from the Middle East and elsewhere use Indonesia as a stepping stone to Australia, trusting their lives to people-smugglers who often use dilapidated and overloaded boats. (Roman Kupchinsky)

During a videoconference with county prefects on 22 February, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase announced that his government plans a number of measures intended to eliminate the roots of corruption in the army, Romanian radio reported on 22 February. According to Nastase, army procurement will be carried out only in a centralized way and solely in concordance with last year's Government Emergency Ordinance No. 60. The import of medical and other equipment will be done exclusively via the public corporation, Romtehnica. All contracts that have been concluded with various suppliers will be checked. (Roman Kupchinsky)

Speaking at a briefing in Moscow, Yurii Korolev, the deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's Main Criminal Police Department, said his agency has identified and issued international and federal arrest warrants for the alleged assassins of liberal politician Galina Starovoitova, who was murdered on 20 November 1998, and of ORT television General Director Vladimir Listev, who was slain in 1993, Russian news agencies reported. Korolev noted that in both cases the perpetrators are living abroad, yet he did not name the alleged killers. Korolev also said two Russian criminals recently extradited from the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002) have nothing to do with death of Starovoitova.

As early as November 2001, the national IMA press agency issued a report quoting intelligence officials that said "a circle of people linked to the assassination has been identified." But two months later, Northwest District Prosecutor Vladimir Zubrin backed off, saying, "[T]his is a very serious case, so it is premature to say."

In January, Prosecutor V. Zubrin added, "[T]here is some hope that Starovoitova's case may be solved."

A search of the Interpol website on 28 February failed to show any suspects being sought by Russia in the case. (So-called "Red Alerts" issued by Interpol for persons being sought are not always public information, however, and the majority are not posted on the Internet.) (Victor Yasmann and Roman Kupchinsky)

Two Russian citizens, Yurii Biryuchenko and Viktor Kudryashov, were extradited on 18 February from the Czech Republic and sent to Russia on suspicion of murder, extortion, and other crimes, RIA-Novosti reported. Biryuchenko and Kudryashov are suspected of murdering State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova in 1998. But in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 15 February, former Starovoitova assistant Ruslan Linkov said that to find the persons who ordered and carried out Starovoitova's murder, "it is not necessary to travel to Riga or Prague -- [it would be] sufficient to search the closest associates of State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev or St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev." Linkov added that he spoke with some members of the special services on the topic and they said there was simply "no political will or agreement from above" to extend the investigation to Yakovlev or Seleznev ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002).

Russia's first witness-protection program is in operation in Moscow, Russian TV reported on 24 February. It is operated by the staff of a special department of the Organized Crime Directorate and protects those taking part in criminal trials -- changing their place of residence, biography, and even appearance if necessary. For the moment, witnesses can only be supplied with temporary accommodations, which the police inherited from the old Soviet Interior Ministry fund and which are primarily located in the older quarters of Moscow and the area around the capital. In addition, the protected person's official documents and biography can be changed in the most difficult cases. Oleg Ektov, the head of the Witness Protection Department of the Organized Crime Directorate, said: "When personal information is changed, all documents are replaced, from the birth certificate right through to diplomas."

At the moment, three judges and four witnesses are under the protection of the department's staff. None has had to have their outward appearance changed, or changed their place of residence or employment. In emergency cases, protected persons are simply assigned bodyguards. (Roman Kupchinsky)

The Russian Interior Ministry has opened an investigation and the search for a Russian citizen, Viktor Bout, who is suspected of having sold arms to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban just days before the 11 September attacks in the United States, "The Moscow Times" reported on 22 February. Bout, who is alternately described as a former Soviet air force officer or former KGB officer, has been linked to illegal arms sales to Liberia and Sierra Leone by the United Nations (see "RFE/RL Crime, Corruption, and Terrorism Watch," 16, 22, and 29 November 2001). The deputy head of the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Konstantin Makienko, said there are a large number of former Soviet intelligence and army officers involved in gray schemes selling arms from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine -- mainly spare parts and ammunition. Independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer called Bout a minor player in the arms trade. According to Felgenhauer, the main organizers are in Bulgaria and Romania, while Ukraine and Belarus provide the weapons. (Roman Kupchinsky)

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer stated at a news conference in Kyiv that his country does not possess any information which would confirm that Ukraine supplied arms to Afghanistan, Ukrainian television and RFE/RL's Ukrainian service reported on 24 February. "On the contrary, mutual understanding between our countries exists on the inadmissibility of supplying weapons of mass destruction, especially to Iran, Iraq, and Libya," he said. Charges that Ukraine might have sold arms to the Taliban were raised in Moscow by a member of the Russian State Duma, Viktor Ilyukhin, on 10 December and repeated in an article in the German magazine "Der Spiegel." Referring to information he claimed to have gotten from the Defense Ministry and the Russian secret services, Ilyukhin said Ukraine supplied over 200 tanks, 200 armored personnel carriers, and 30 light planes to Afghanistan via dummy companies in 1996 (see "RFE/RL Crime, Corruption, and Terrorism Watch," Volume 1, number 8). "Der Spiegel" cited Russian experts and Ilyukhin as saying that former Ukrainian security service chief Leonid Derkach and his son Andriy, a parliament member, were involved in selling arms to Afghanistan's former Taliban regime. The report also said Ukrainian-Israeli tycoon Vadym Rabinovich took part in the deals, which delivered between 150 and 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks with the aid of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Rabinovich was mentioned as an arms trader in communications between Taliban commanders intercepted by Russian troops on Tajikistan's border with Afghanistan in 1995, "Der Spiegel" reported. (Roman Kupchinsky)