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Stop Bribing Courts, Medvedev Tells Oligarchs

President Dmitry Medvedev speaks at the meeting with businessmen in Moscow on October 21.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- President Dmitry Medvedev has told Russia's richest businessmen to stop paying bribes after the tycoons complained to him about corruption and poor legislation.

At a meeting in the Kremlin with the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, commonly known as the "oligarchs' lobby," Medvedev responded to the tycoons' complaints by criticizing them for bribery.

"I suspect these are often the businessmen who are paying [bribes] to them [the courts]. It is the obligation of every businessman to report [corruption] to law enforcement agencies," a visibly irritated Medvedev said during the part of the discussion broadcast on television.

The comment came in response to remarks by indebted tycoon Oleg Deripaska, once Russia's richest man, who complained about Russia's notoriously corrupt court system.

Medvedev has made the fight against corruption a priority but so far has had few concrete results.

Apart from the comment on bribes, Medvedev's second-ever meeting with the oligarchs' lobby was a relatively calm one, contrasting with when Vladimir Putin was president and would ask tough questions and move stock prices with his harsh remarks.

Medvedev called on the tycoons to give ideas for "exit strategies," what Russia should do as it starts emerging from an economic slump.

Gross domestic product fell by almost 10 percent in the first half of 2009, in sharp contrast with a decade of growth fueled by high commodities prices.

A recent rise in oil prices has given hope for renewed growth in 2010 but analysts say reliance on oil revenues has weakened the incentive for Russia to modernize its economy.

The tycoons, who received unprecedented help from the state to stay afloat and refinance debts this year, spoke little about possible "exit strategies" and instead flagged worries about legislation and disputes with each other.

Russia's fourth-richest man, the oil-to-banking oligarch Mikhail Fridman, who owns major retailer X5, complained about a bill which may cap food prices and tackle regional dominance, and about a competition law which sets prison terms for breaking anti-monopoly rules.

The meeting continued behind closes doors and participants said the dialogue continued in a similar vein.

"It was a disappointment that we didn't see a clear strategy to diversify the economy," said Boris Titov from mid-sized business lobby group Delovaya Rossiya.