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'C' Is For Corruption: Russian School Notebooks Feature Remarks From Mayor Charged With Bribery

"Papa, who is that man on my notebook?"
"Papa, who is that man on my notebook?"

On the occasion of the start of the new academic year, schoolchildren in the Russian city of Orenburg received notebooks with a portrait of the mayor and his advice on studying hard and becoming a "spiritually rich individual."

But there was one problem: The mayor, Yevgeny Arapov, was arrested two weeks ago on corruption charges.

"No one knew that the mayor was going to be arrested," Vladimir Ukhov, a businessman who says around half of the 20,000 notebooks he published were distributed to Orenburg schools, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

The notebooks garnered attention in Russia after Vladimir Tishin, a resident of the Urals city 1,500 kilometers southeast of Moscow, posted a photograph on Facebook showing the introductory page with Arapov's portrait and words of encouragement to students.

"Papa, who is that man on my notebook?" Tishin wrote in an irony-laden post accompanying the photograph. "That, my son, is Arapov. He will teach you everything that he knows and can do himself."

Regional investigators announced on August 14 that Arapov had been detained on suspicion of accepting a 600,000 ruble bribe ($8,900) from a businessman, 400,000 ($6,000) of which was allegedly earmarked for himself.

Arapov has been formally charged and placed under court-ordered arrest, investigators later said, adding that he denies the charges.

Mayor Yevgeny Arapov attends a court hearing in Orenburg on August 16.
Mayor Yevgeny Arapov attends a court hearing in Orenburg on August 16.

The Orenburg city government said in a statement carried by a local news outlet that it had been approached by an "individual businessman" in early 2018 about publishing the notebooks with introductory words from Arapov, information about the city, and emergency telephone numbers.

It added that it had cooperated with the businessman on the short texts in the notebook, which was to be distributed to parent groups, and that he gave "the necessary number" of copies to parents in March and April.

"The decision to use these notebooks or not should be made by the parents of students or the students themselves," the statement said.

Ukhov, the publisher, says he has previously printed similar notebooks for several Russian cities and that he is now searching for a way to minimize his financial losses on the Orenburg print run, RIA Novosti reported.

"I'm now racking my brain over how to repurpose these notebooks to recoup the investment," he was quoted as saying by the news agency, adding that he had taken out loans of 1 million rubles ($14,900) for the project.

"Perhaps we will paste over the pages with special paper and put a different picture there," Ukhov said.

Russia ranked 131st of 176 countries in the 2017 Corruption Perception Index of the international NGO Transparency International.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called corruption a significant problem in the country, while his political opponents and other critics accuse him of overseeing a system of cronyism and corruption benefiting well-placed insiders and people close to him.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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