- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev said Sunday that he will publicly declare his income and encouraged other officials to fight corruption by disclosing relatives’ incomes and assets.

Most government officials are obliged by law to declare their income and assets but many are believed to declare figures that hide their true income from graft, and use family members to hide their assets. New laws require disclosure of family members’ holdings.

“That significantly expands the sphere under control,” Medvedev said in a television interview. He acknowledged that some corrupt officials could still use proxies to hide their assets or move them offshore.

Medvedev, a former lawyer and law professor, has repeatedly called for stronger rule of law in Russia and pledged to combat rampant corruption. But there have been few signs of progress since he took over the presidency last May from Vladimir Putin, who shifted into the prime minister’s chair.

Medvedev said that the current law required him to reveal his income only when he was running for president, but he decided to do that on an annual basis beginning this year.

“I hope that other officials will do the same,” he said.

Medvedev said at a Kremlin meeting on corruption Tuesday that progress in fighting graft has so far been “extremely modest” and that a mechanism to check and verify officials’ income declarations is yet to be created.

He said that prosecutors filed charges last year against 12,000 officials accused of corruption.

Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has ranked Russia near Bangladesh, Kenya and Syria on a global corruption index. A Russian prosecutor said last summer that government officials’ income from corruption amounts to the equivalent of about one-third of the national budget.

Experts said the scale of official corruption increased under Putin, who sought to tighten state control over the economy during his eight-year tenure and rolled back on post-Soviet freedoms.

“Fighting corruption in our country is a particularly difficult task that will require colossal efforts and patience,” Medvedev said. “It will take years.”

Russian entrepreneurs face endless checks by police and tax authorities, sanitary inspectors, fire brigades and numerous other officials. Traffic police solicit bribes by citing drivers for fabricated offenses, parents slip extra rubles to teachers in exchange for better grades and hospital patients grease the palms of doctors for better care.

“We must react to such things immediately, because corruption starts at grassroot level and spreads to the very top,” Medvedev said. “We must cut its roots, because when people see these things happening everywhere they lose heart.”

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