Russian security agents arrest officials accused of corruption

Russian authorities arrested two officials accused of asking a banker for a US$1 million (Ђ836,000) bribe, officials said Tuesday.

A deputy head of the Federal Tax Service's department of credit organizations was arrested in a Moscow hotel Monday while receiving the bribe, the Moscow city prosecutor's office said in a statement. It said the suspect demanded the bribe from the chief executive officer of a Moscow commercial bank in exchange for dropping back tax demands against the bank.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main KGB successor agency that made the arrests, said that its agents later Monday arrested a Russian Central Bank official accused of being an accomplice of the tax official. It said agents who searched his office found another US$1 million (Ђ836,000) in three suitcases.

The suspects' names were not released.

The FSB said in a statement that the suspects had demanded a bribe equivalent to a tenth of back tax demands leveled against the commercial bank "in line with the long-held custom" of corrupt officials. It didn't name the bank.

Economics Minister German Gref on Tuesday acknowledged on the sidelines of the Moscow conclave of the World Economic Forum that corruption was on the rise in Russia.

Transparency International said in a report Tuesday that Russia was one of the nations where increases in perceived corruption from last year's survey were recorded.

Some analysts said that the politically charged campaign against the Yukos oil company and its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky had encouraged corrupt bureaucrats to take advantage of businesses. Yukos' most lucrative fields were sold off at a state-ordered auction against some US$28 billion (Ђ23 billion) in disputed back-tax assessments in December.

The Moscow-based Indem research foundation said last July that bribery in Russia is nearly ten times as high as in 2001 despite President Vladimir Putin's pledges to tackle corruption. It said that Russians paid US$316 billion (Ђ262 billion) in bribes to police, licensing bodies and state inspectors in the past year _ more than double Russia's federal revenues, AP reported. V.A.

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