Corruption a problem in Russia's courts

A Russian police officer walks near St. Basil's cathedral on Red Square in Moscow. Some businesspeople in Russia say corrupt courts make them vulnerable to the whims of corrupt officials and rivals who want to take their businesses.

Jeremy Hobson: A member of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot says she has no regrets about the band's anti-government performance that got her and her bandmates sent to prison for two years. The case has captured the attention of the nation, and has not been good for the reputation of Russian Courts.

But as Peter van Dyk reports from Moscow, that's an issue Russian businesses have known about for a long time.


Peter van Dyk: Photographers shoot pictures frantically every time Mikhail Khodorkovsky goes to court. The former head of oil company Yukos is Russia's most famous jailed businessman. But he's not the only one.

Boris Titov: 13,600 people are in jail on economical charges.

Boris Titov is Russia's first Ombudsman for Businesses. President Vladimir Putin appointed him in June, and gave him wide powers to defend businesses. He will need them.

Titov: Every sixth businessman -- we counted that -- in his life experienced the pressure of the Russian legal system against him. Every sixth businessman in Russia.

Businessman Igor Kroshkin is speaking to me from prison. He says he's inside on made-up charges. Kroshkin once enjoyed every comfort. Today, he tells his story using a cellphone he had to buy from a guard.

They arrested me, he says, they took the factory, moved the shares offshore to Cyprus. Kroshkin was jailed for six years for attempting to steal $5 million. He says the prosecutor was bribed half a million dollars to pursue the case.

When Khodorkovsky was arrested, he was Russia's richest man. Kroshkin was no oligarch, but he was doing well. All too often, that's the problem. A successful business attracts attention. Rivals or greedy bureaucrats can use corrupt police and judges to seize control of the business.

Vladimir Putin says business men and women are as much to blame as officials, though that's not the view of Titov, his ombudsman. Nor of Yana Yakovleva, the head of the NGO Business Solidarity. She thinks business people in Russia are too vulnerable to the whims of officials. And she doesn't see that changing anytime soon.

Yana Yakoleva: I don't think anything will change with the judicial system in the near future, because I see no signs that the president is getting ready to change this system.

As with almost everything in Russia, it all comes down to Putin, unless the real pessimists are right. They say the situation has gotten so bad, even Putin can't fix it.

In Moscow, I'm Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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