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Russia: How Much Do Governors Receive in Bribes?



While the world was transfixed on the gruesome murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow last month, another developing story was intensely followed by ordinary Russians. The governor of the Sakhalin region—a large swath of land in the North Pacific—was detained on charges of accepting a $6.1 million bribe.

That bribes are a common way to do business in Russia is not news, and that many governors are corrupt is not news either. But the particulars of this case attracted significant attention. First, while searching the governor's Sakhalin mansion, the police found a gold-and-diamond pen, priced at $600,000. Second, the apartment of the governor in Moscow was furnished with a remote-controlled toilet with a hydro-massage function, at a cost of $15,000. Third, the governor's Moscow summer house—which he had forgotten to declare on his income-and-assets disclosure statement—was recently renovated at a cost in excess of $2 million. Fourth, the number of expensive jewelry items found in the house far exceeded what the governor's wife could possible wear. And further details on the case are coming out every day—turning this into a reality show that many Russians can't resist.

The bigger question, however, is how much governors can add to their public salaries through bribes, commissions, and received gifts. While the full details of the Sakhalin case are yet to emerge, a back-of-the-envelope calculation can be attempted. The governor's annual salary is reported in his income-and-assets disclosure form to be 9 million rubles, or roughly $153,000. His wife's annual income is reported at less than $10,000 a year. Prior to his appointment as governor in 2007, he served as a teacher and then a small-town mayor—hardly high-income professions.

Adding up the income reported in the governor's disclosure statements over the past decade, and that of his wife, brings the sum to a figure less than $2.5 million. Adding the price of items uncovered in the governor's apartments and houses, as reported by the police, plus the cash in hand and the latest bribe comes to a figure of around $12 million. In summary, a Russian governor can complement his salary with illicit gifts and bribes to the tune of four times his legitimate income.

No wonder that the recent presidential decree to reduce all salaries of high-level public officials by 10 percent as an austerity measure in the 2015 budget did not meet opposition. Public officials may simply increase their complementary intake.

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