"The Flagmen": Officials Not Afraid to Expose Their Corrupt Colleagues
In late November, the State Duma's specialized committee approved a draft law on the protection of employees who reported corruption crimes. If the law is adopted, the so-called “signalmen” will be protected from dismissal and disciplinary actions. In the same month, the human rights group Agora released a report called A Hundred Russian Exposers about what happens to those who reported about the violations in the system, being inside it. Russiangate remembers the state employees who decided to talk about corruption in their departments.
The English term whistleblower is translated into Russian as an “informant”, “exposer” or “signaler”. This is the name of those who expose or disclose (for example to journalists) the confidential or classified information that has become known to them through their official position, labor, contractual or other relations with the organization or government body, in spite of their own obligations to preserve secrecy. The personal gain is rarely a motive behind signalmen’s actions – after their reports they are often subjected to harassment. Most commonly they cannot hide information that threatens society or the state and the security of citizens.
Two of the most famous “signalmen” that emerged lately are from the US. The serviceman Chelsea Manning handed over classified documents about US military operations, including a video recording of American civil servants shooting civilians in Iraq. As well as NSA officer Edward Snowden, who spoke of the total surveillance initiated by the American special services.
PROTECTION OF THE EXPOSERS
The law that would protect the rights of employees who reported corruption offences has been prepared for a long time: in 2015, the Ministry of Labor offered to pay the informer a reward and protect his relatives and friends. A more successful version of the bill is now discussed in the State Duma – the Committee on Security and Counteracting Corruption approved the document on November 23.
If the draft is accepted, the exposer will be protected from dismissal and disciplinary responsibility (he can be dismissed only by the decision of a special commission) within two years after the report, as well as provided with confidentiality and legal assistance. The draft law introduces the concept of “persons who contribute to counteracting corruption” – for example, investigative journalists or civil activists.
Now, the exposers’ status is regulated by several legislative acts. Firstly, it is the Law “On Counteracting Corruption”: it establishes that the employee who reported corruption in the state agency is protected by the state. Secondly, it is the Presidential Decree adopted in 2013. The decree was to be a temporary measure: in 2006, Russia ratified the UN Convention against Corruption, thus making a commitment to develop measures to protect the whistleblowers. In 2010, at the G20 summit, the participating countries, including Russia, assumed the responsibility to develop legislative acts in support of corruption exposures, but this has not happened yet.
According to Transparency International’s Center for Anti-Corruption Research and Initiatives, regarding the guarantees of confidentiality, legal assistance and protection against retaliation of the employer, the bill in question repeats already existing norms, while the real problem is the practice of their enforcement. In addition, neither the current laws nor the new initiative offer any protection to the whistleblowers’ relatives and a real mechanism for protecting the exposers’ rights.
At the same time, the law on civil service actually prohibits the state and municipal employees from expressing, the more so critically, about the activities of state bodies and their leadership. In the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, when assessing such statements it is necessary to consider their content, public significance, caused or prevented damage to state and public interests, and the existence or absence of alternative methods of action.
THOSE WHO ARE NOT AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT CORRUPTION
According to the international human rights group Agora, since 1995, there have been at least 100 cases of disclosure of information about violations and abuses, information about which the whistleblower received due to his official position. Most of the exposers are fired, subjected to criminal or physical harassment, and verification of their statements is carried out in exceptional cases.
Among the whistleblowers contacted by Agora, there are many more of those who talked about instigating crimes committed by their leadership, as Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Litvinenko (was poisoned in London with polonium-210). Or violations committed by court officials, like former judge of the Moscow City Court Olga Kudeshkina (she was deprived of the status of a judge) or former secretary of the Oktyabrsky District Court of St. Petersburg Alexander Eyvazov (currently under arrest). From Agora’s report it also follows that most commonly they tell about violations in the police and healthcare sphere.
The first wave of Russian whistleblowers emerged in 2009 – after the video message of the police major Alexei Dymovsky to Vladimir Putin. In it, Dymovsky said about fraud in initiating cases, corruption and forced overtimes in the police. Dymovsky fueled a chain reaction in the ranks of law enforcement officers. The law enforcers, dissatisfied with the absurd and improper requirements of the management involved in the budget allocation schemes, decided to speak.
“LET THEM PAY FOR DUMMIES”
In November 2009, the MIA Major Alexei Dymovsky from Novorossiysk published two videos on his website with an appeal to Vladimir Putin (Prime Minister at that time), and to Russian officers. Soon, the videos were on YouTube and quickly became popular. The video, posted on YouTube on November 6, 2009, has almost half a million views.
In his message to Putin, Dymovsky says: “Maybe you do not know, maybe you suspect, maybe you are not told about it, but I want you to know how we live. Simple officers, ordinary militiamen who disclose, investigate, detain, issue, who work.”
The policeman told about forced unpaid overtimes, a salary of 14 thousand rubles, framed up criminal cases. In his message to the officers of Russia, published on the same day, Dymovsky speaks of bribes – “kalym”, which the police receive. He addressed his boss with a report on corruption in the Novorossiysk militia and received no reaction.
Almost immediately after the publication of the videos, in the Novorossiysk MIA Department, an official check was conducted, according to which Dymovsky was dismissed with the wording “for slander and deed discrediting the honor of a police officer”. Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev hastened to inform that the facts about which Dymovsky was talking about, did not prove true, hence, the statement was regarded as slander. The main goal of the check was to bring Dymovsky to responsibility.
In December 2009, a criminal case on fraud with the use of official position was initiated against Dymovsky; in January of the following year, the former policeman was taken into custody, but after two months he was released on recognizance not to leave. In March, hearings on the lawsuits of the police employees on libel began: the court found Dymovsky guilty and ordered to pay compensation, and in April, the criminal case against him was terminated after the expiration of the statute of limitations. They threatened the former policeman with a case on divulging classified state information, but the accusation was never brought.
It was even suspected that Dymovsky's speech was funded from the West: for example, the head of the MIA’s Department of Internal Security, Yuri Draguntsov, stated: “Those people who tried to play this card and make something out of it, to make a dummy of some kind, picked the wrong candidate. What happened evidently indicates some planned action. Talking to Dymovsky, in my opinion is just a waste of time. But, among other things, some have spent money on this. I am glad that this is not the money of our state. Let them pay for the dummies.”
WHISTLEBLOWERS ON YOUTUBE
Dymovsky’s video did not have any consequences for the Novorossiysk police officers, except for reputational ones. But after his appeal about corruption and violations in the system of law enforcement agencies, other employees began to speak out.
Former deputy prosecutor of Ukhta Grigory Chekalin recorded a video message to President Dmitry Medvedev. Chekalin told about the falsification of criminal cases and corruption in law enforcement agencies of the city. According to Chekalin, in the case of the arson of a shopping center in 2005, innocent people were convicted, materials against whom were framed up, which is why he had to quit the Prosecutor's Office.
Chekalin's words were confirmed by Major Mikhail Yevseyev, who was part of the investigation team in the case. Yevseyev, in his video message published on November 12, 2009, also said that he repeatedly appealed to the leadership of the Komi Republic MIA with allegations of corruption violations.
Major of the Sverdlovsk Region Police Department Tatiana Domracheva spoke out about corruption in the police department, the former employee of the Sverdlovsk Regional Police Department, Lieutenant Colonel Igor Kanygin, who supported Domracheva, reported that the regional police routinely steal budget money. Moscow traffic police officer Vadim Smirnov told about the overtimes, the “ticket quota system”, because of which employees are forced to falsify evidence, the Senior District Inspector from Togliatti, Major Alexei Mumolin, and the employee of the Sochi Prosecutor's Office, Alexander Popkov, put forward similar charges.
The wave of video messages by law enforcement officers in 2009 did not lead to any significant changes in the law enforcement system. Employees Sverdlovsk MIA’s Main Directorate recognized that Domracheva repeatedly appealed with reports, and said that they conducted inspections on them – allegedly, her allegations were not confirmed. Domracheva was accused of slander and dismissed, Vadim Smirnov lost his job even before his statement. Mumolin was informed of incompetence; after a single picket he was dismissed. The case of Mumolin and tax inspector Lyubov Kondratieva, who had been dismissed after an interview about financial irregularities in the government of the Tula Region, was examined by the Constitutional Court. It did not find the norm about prohibition of public criticism of departments for civil servants incompatible with the Russian Constitution.
“THERE’S A DIAGNOSIS – A TRUTH-SEEKER”
In 2011, Major of Internal Troops Igor Matveyev published a record from the warehouse of a military unit. He said that servicemen are fed with dog food, which comes in cans of stew. Matveyev was dismissed, a criminal case was brought against him for abuse of office with the use of violence – he was suspected of beating a warrant and duty officers.
The Prosecutor's Office conducted a check on Matveyev’s message, as a result of which it was found the theft of canned food from a warehouse for a million rubles. The military unit’s warehouse manager was suspected in the theft: according to the Prosecutor's Office, he re-labeled the canned food intended for feeding soldiers to hide the theft. Matveyev planned to appeal the dismissal through the court, denied the accusations of violence and claimed that he was being bribed.
At the trial, the Matveyev's management from the MIA stated that the Major’s psychological profile “is not completely all right”: MIA Major General Igor Gorbach said that he stumbled upon the characteristic of “a truth-seeker syndrome”. “He has mixed signs of personality disorder. There is such a diagnosis – a truth-seeker. Everything around him seems criminal to him, he sees everything around him in black light. He has a drinking problem,” Gorbach said.
As a result, the court sentenced Matveyev to four years of imprisonment, depriving him of his military rank, and also obliging the military servicemen who filed a claim against Matveyev to defend their honor and dignity, 25,000 rubles. Soon, another case was brought against Matveev under the articles of abuse of power and fraud in a large amount, the court found him guilty again.
In the end, head of the warehouse Vyacheslav Gerzog was also found guilty of abuse of official authority and negligence. The court decided that Gerzog found a shortage of canned food and re-labeled the canned food to hide it. He got off with a fine of 90 thousand rubles and compensation for damages in the amount of 919 thousand rubles.
COMISSION FROM BONUSES
Pilot Igor Sulim was the luckiest. Sulim, who was serving in Lipetsk, in 2011 published an appeal to Air Force Commander Alexander Zelin, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Chairman of the Investigation Committee Alexander Bastrykin on the Live Journal. In the appeal, Sulim described the systematic extortion committed by the command of the unit. Deputy Chief of the Air Center Eduard Kovalsky and Deputy for educational work Sergei Sidorenko monthly extorted part of bonuses from the officers, threatening them with dismissal. Sulim estimated the total amount of the money extorted for the year at 7 million rubles.
After the publication, Sulim was dismissed from aviation for health reasons – he was re-qualified as a civilian pilot. However, according to the facts set forth in Sulim's appeal, an investigation began, which eventually had the Air Center’s management on the dock. 26 pilots who paid tribute from their bonuses testified against the extorters. In August 2014, the court found Kovalsky and Sidorenko guilty, sentencing them to four and five years of imprisonment on probation and reparation.
VLOGGERS FROM THE TRAFFIC POLICE
Law enforcement officers continue to fight for their rights with the help of YouTube – but these days anonymously. In August 2017, a
video was published, in which a man who introduced himself as an employee of the Saratov Traffic Police told about corruption by management and ordinary employees of the department. The man said about the violations in the city’s Traffic Police, violations and crimes of the commander of Saratov Traffic Police Regiment Yakov Muraviev and his subordinates.
According to an anonymous employee of the department, in the city Traffic Police at almost every step, the officers are expected to pay into the pocket of the management: for example, for a 12-hour shift on the bridge across the Volga, every employee must give the management 8-10 thousand rubles. Money is taken from travelers, for example, from truckers who smuggle and transport illegal migrants across the bridge. Those who do not cope with the set norm are transferred to other places – for example, to the old bridge, where there is no one to “earn” from, but you would have to give to the management only a thousand rubles. For evacuating cars (parking lots pay to the traffic police officers) officers are supposed to pay to their seniors, as well as for weekend rest, for refueling and repairing official cars.
In August, the MIA Main Directorate began checking the facts set out in the video message. The results of the check have not yet been reported in the media.
A similar situation unfolded in the State Traffic Safety Inspectorate of Sochi: in March 2016, an anonymous employee of the Traffic Police posted a video in which he told that the management takes bribes from subordinates.
“Admission to work costs 200-250 thousand rubles. Transfer to another subdivision – 150 thousand rubles. To get a new patrol car, you need to give 30 thousand rubles. For vacation in the summer – 10 thousand rubles, for having a day off – 500 rubles. The inspector has arrived – give 300-500 rubles. Every day every patrol must hand over to the platoon commander up to three thousand rubles. In total, from four squadrons, the commander receives 150-200 thousand rubles a day,” the man said, turning his back on the camera.
According to the anonymous employee, such charges began after the arrival of a new battalion commander of the Traffic Police. The employees get the money in the same way – on the road, from traffic violators. The press service of the MIA of the Krasnodar Region reported that they are checking the facts from the video message – no results have been reported either.