Friday, November 24, 2006

Corruption in Chechnya

From Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Compensation payments to Chechen citizens: problems still not solved

By Umalt Chadayev

CHECHNYA – On November 14, Sultan Isakov, a high-ranking official of the Chechen government’s Compensation Committee, was detained on suspicion of extorting a large bribe, law enforcement representatives said.

Two days after this, in an interview for the Interfax news agency, Yuri Rosinsky, head of the FSB’s press service in the Chechen Republic, announced that FSB officials and the Chechen prosecutor’s office had implemented “a package of measures for the struggle against corruption in the institutions of authority and control.”

“Within the framework of these measures we have detained an organized criminal group which was extorting money that had been paid to Chechen residents as compensation for lost housing and property,” he said. “One of the group’s members, Emidin Khamatkhanov, was arrested while receiving 175,000 rubles from a resident of the city of Urus-Martan.”

According to Rosinsky, the evidence given by Khamatkhanov was used to detain Sultan Isakov, head of the secretariat of the Compensation Committee. The high-ranking official was accused of fulfilling the role of mediator and extortionist in the group. He allegedly dealt with the blocking of the bank accounts of uncooperative citizens who refused to pay a bribe, which could amount to as much as 50 per cent of the compensation sum (Chechen citizens are entitled to compensation payments of 350,000 rubles for housing and property lost in the course of military operations).

Names of other members of the criminal group were mentioned, in particular those of Ruslan Magomadov and Luiza Azimova, head of Rosselkhozbank’s operational department. This case of corruption among high-ranking officials threatened to become something of a national scandal. But only a few days after his detention, Sultan Isakov, who was one of the main suspects in the bribery and extortion racket, was set free. The Grozny district law court refused to issue a warrant for his arrest.

In addition, Isakov received the support of his immediate superior, Chechen prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who has personally headed the Committee in recent years. In Kadyrov’s opinion, Isakov was detained “without a proper basis of evidence.”

“An impression is being created that this arrest was a political act intended to discredit the republic’s authorities,” Kadyrov said in a statement distributed by his press service on November 17. “The detention of Isakov without any substantiating evidence is meant to create a negative opinion in the media and among the public about the situation in the country, and these actions are directed against the executive authority of the Chechen Republic.”

Isakov himself also claimed that his arrest had political implications. In his opinion, the main target of the action was Ramzan Kadyrov. “Kadyrov authorized an active operation to expose unlawful compensation deals. The ‘black hole’ that had come into being in the republic thereby disappeared, and now this is not to someone’s liking. My arrest was an attempt to discredit the executive branch in the Chechen Republic. What’s more, I’m certain that they wanted directly to blacken the name of the Compensation Committee’s chairman and present him in a negative light,” the official said at a press conference that was held in the building of the Grozny-Inform agency in the Chechen capital on November 20.

Nevertheless, the prosecutor’s office has announced that it intends to launch an appeal in the Chechen Supreme Court against Isakov’s release. Chechnya’s public prosecutor Valery Kuznetsov has stressed that the investigation of this matter will continue.

But many observers in the republic believe that the corruption case has little likelihood of success. “The Committee’s chairman is Ramzan Kadyrov. Isakov is his subordinate. It looks as though the prosecutor’s office is using the extortion case in order to get at the head of the government. But no one will allow that to happen,” a Chechen law enforcement officer believes.

“It’s no secret in the republic that ever since the payouts of compensation began in 2003 there has been corruption and open extortion. Officials have been taking 15,000 rubles as payment for preparing the necessary package of documents from people who weren’t actually eligible for compensation. After they got their compensation money from the bank those people also had to part with half of it, to the tune of 175,000 rubles. That’s the system that’s been in operation all these years, and it continues to operate. No official will turn down a ‘feeding trough’ of that kind,” he is convinced.

According to the officer, “big guys” and “big money” are involved. “Remember the arrest and trial of Baybatyrov (the former chairman of the Compensation Committee, who headed it in 2003-2004). He was accused of misappropriating more than 18 million rubles. But in the end he only got one-and-a-half years! That tells you something.”

Abubakir Baybatyrov was indeed arrested in November 2005 on charges of fraud and the misappropriation of a large sum of money. In June this year he was sentenced to
one-and-a-half years of imprisonment – not for embezzlement, however, but for exceeding his official authority.

A source in the Chechen presidential office says that from 2003 to the present day more than 46,000 of the republic’s citizens have obtained compensation for housing and property lost in the course of military operations. The Compensation Committee has received a total of 142,000 applications.

Three months ago the compensation payments were halted on the order of Ramzan Kadyrov. It was announced that this step had been taken because of the need for checks to be made on the legality of documents filed by Chechen subjects. Eli Isayev, the republic’s finance minister, recently announced that the payments will soon be resumed, and will be completed by the end of 2007.

Translated by David McDuff.
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