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Sakhalin governor’s arrest sends anti-corruption message to regional elites

March 05, 2015, 18:50 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© Mikhail Pochuyev/TASS

MOSCOW, 5 March. /TASS/. The arrest of the Sakhalin Region’ governor on charges of taking a mammoth bribe is shifting the war on corruption into higher gear. Hopefully, it is to produce a situation where there should be no untouchables, polled experts have told TASS.

On Wednesday, the governor of Sakhalin, Alexander Khoroshavin, 55, was brought to Moscow by a regular flight under armed guard. A little earlier, he was charged with taking a huge 5.6-million-dollar bribe. Later in the same day a court in Moscow refused to release Khoroshavin on a five-million-rouble bail and remanded him in custody.

The man, who before the arrest boasted a perfect suntan and athletic shape and was radiating self-confidence, instantly turned into a depressed suspect in a criminal case, his face hidden from the cameras in the hood of the overcoat. The media are now brimming with guesses why Khoroshavin had failed to turn an attentive ear to members of the All Russia Popular Front, who at an extensively-covered meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin exposed many of Khoroshavin’s sins, for instance, the purchase of a premium class Mercedes limousine for eight million roubles and the squandering of 680,000 million roubles from the region’s budget on a campaign to bolster his own image.

The deputy director of the Political Technologies Centre, Aleksei Makarkin, suspects that the Sakhalin governor must have thought the Kremlin’s officially declared policy of struggle against corruption was a time-serving campaign. "He even declared his intention to run for governor next autumn. But President Vladimir Putin apparently decided to show one and all that the crusade against corruption would be harsh and proceed regardless of ranks and connections," Makarkin told TASS.

"This is precisely the reason why for the first time in Russia’s modern history the process of detaining a high-ranking official suspected of corruption followed a different procedure. On all previous occasions a regional governor, for instance, the head of the Tula Region, first lost his office and then faced criminal charges. This time the law enforcers turned the arrest into a showcase, thereby sending a message to all regional authorities," Makarkin believes.

"I believe that the theme of struggle against corruption will be particularly timely in the context of the current crisis, because large-scale corruption breeds ineffectiveness and moral degradation of officials, which discredits the authorities in the eyes of the people.

"The 2018 presidential election is due soon. This is the reason why the head of state is determined to enhance the role of the All-Russia People’s Front as a resource of public support for the authorities. Khoroshavin ignored the ARPF’s criticism. A big mistake it was. Putin turned an attentive ear to the Popular Front’s criticism against the governor of Sakhalin and warned all civil servants in very clear terms that criticism by the public at large should be taken in full seriousness," Makarkin said.

"Sakhalin’s geographic location was one of the reasons why Khoroshavin had the illusion of impunity. The island is 10,000 kilometers (an eight-hour flight) away from Moscow," remarks the director of the Globalization Problems Institute, Mikhail Delyagin.

"Khoroshavin’s arrest is a clear signal to civil servants they should begin to toe the line at last, because the scale of embezzlement amid the crisis endangers the basics of the economy and is fraught with an economic slump. Before, not a single official above the rank of a deputy governor was detained in public. This is a very angry message, indeed: ‘Men, mind your manners.’ And the very instance the arrested governor was handcuffed and taken to Moscow on board a regular flight might have been interpreted as an unspoken message from Putin: ‘One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door!'" Delyagin said with a pinch of irony.

"The struggle against corruption featured high on the agenda of many public events lately, held by President Putin and the chief of his staff, Sergey Ivanov, who last December mentioned dozens, if not hundreds of cases, in which officials had to tender resignation statements after property and income declaration checks. Now measures have begun to be taken against those who ignored the Kremlin’s warnings. Putin is determined to firmly clear the system of public administration of those members of the regional elites who ignore his decrees and only simulate effectiveness, while in reality profit seeking remains their sole pursuit," a member of the presidential council for the promotion of civil society and human rights, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, Kirill Kabanov, told TASS.

"In society there are strong expectations of public exposures of corruptioneers, whom the people know very well, and whom they would like to see in the dock. I believe that Khoroshavin’s arrest may be followed by other high-ranking regional figures the All-Russia Popular Front is critical of. After all that organization was established for the public monitoring of the situation locally in support of the head of state," Kabanov said.


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