C&B Notes

Russian Roulette

Russia is a difficult place to understand.  This story highlights the confusion of the legal “system.”

When a judge last October declared Ivan Nazarov’s arrest for bribery and fraud unlawful and set him free, the illegal casino operator was outraged.   “I insist on my testimony, I admit my guilt, I confirm all the evidence and I am prepared to serve my sentence,” he said.  “They want me to take my testimony back . . . Well, I’m not going to.”

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Mr. Nazarov is the star player in a crime drama known in the Russian press as the “gaming affair”, a two-year showdown between the prosecutors’ office, on one hand, and the investigative committee, similar to the U.S. FBI, on the other.  In February 2011, the committee arrested Mr. Nazarov and charged him with bribery, fraud and running an illegal business.  Their main target, he says, is not him but the prosecutors he bribed.  The prosecutors, the very people he admits to paying Rbs770m ($26m) in bribes over a three-year period, are equally keen for him to be declared innocent, he claims, so that they won’t be investigated.

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The story starts in 2007, when Mr. Nazarov set up a chain of gaming bars.  Two years later, a federal law made such establishments illegal.  That was when an official from the local prosecutor’s office appeared in his office: “All your neighbors are paying, its time for you to make a contribution,” he said, according to Mr. Nazarov’s testimony.  The bribes started small but swiftly snowballed.  Overall, he reckons he paid 80 per cent of his monthly profits to police and prosecutors.  “It was a chain of payments — each person took a cut and the money went all the way up,” he said.

The end came with his arrest in February 2011.  Investigative committee officials offered him a plea bargain — testify against those he had bribed and he would get leniency.  He did.  Then those officials testified in turn that they had given a cut to superiors.  In all, the case netted 15 defendants.  Since then, however, Mr. Nazarov has been caught in a battle between the investigative committee and the general prosecutor’s office.  The former has the power to arrest him, while the latter has the power to cancel his arrest and prevent him from going to trial.  This has led to comical results. Despite the fact that officials have admitted their guilt in taking huge bribes from Mr. Nazarov, and Mr. Nazarov insists that he paid those bribes, prosecutors have not found this evidence sufficiently compelling to warrant a trial on charges of corruption.

Here is another interesting episode.