Daimler Bribery Case Tests Medvedev’s Mettle

As prosecutors keep mum on whether they will open an investigation into government officials who accepted nearly $7 million in bribes fr om German car giant Daimler, President Dmitry Medvedev faces a test on just how determined he is to fight corruption. Daimler acknowledged to the U.S. Justice Department on April 1 that its Russian division had paid kickbacks to government officials from 2000 to 2005. Daimler’s decision to admit to paying bribes in Russia and 21 other countries and pay a fine helped settle a lawsuit filed against it by the Justice Department on March 25. Court papers filed in the lawsuit did not identify the officials accused of accepting bribes. While Russian newspapers had a heyday with the corruption case, Russian investigators’ silence and apparent lack of interest toward following through with an inquiry of their own has vexed some Russians. “The prosecutor has the right to order a criminal investigation based on media publications,” Alexei Navalny, a prominent blogger and minority shareholders rights activist, wrote on his blog. “But, perhaps, our prosecutors don’t read the newspapers. … I propose to help these guys and send them some letters.” Navalny kicked off an Internet campaign to inundate prosecutors with requests to open an investigation last week and, by Monday, about 1,000 letters had been submitted to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Medvedev and the Interior Ministry, Navalny said by telephone, basing his estimate on the number of people who had notified him through his blog that they had written to the authorities. “Right now they surely have the information,” he said. “The only excuse they have left that it is taking another couple of days to give it to the Investigative Committee.” He said the silence from investigators suggested that they did not know what to do and were waiting for guidance from the Kremlin. “They cannot investigate, and they cannot not investigate,” he said. “It’s a spectacular scandal, the whole country is telling them, ‘Investigate,’ and they are waiting for a political decision.” A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General’s Office told The Moscow Times last Wednesday that no investigation had been opened because the office “has not received any information regarding Daimler.” She could not say what kind of information was needed to open an investigation and wh ere it would have to come from. When subsequently contacted by phone, representatives from the prosecutor’s office and Investigative Committee declined to comment on what action they might take. The hesitance could stem from a deep-rooted fear of exposing something that people are not supposed to know about, or from knowledge of specific names of government officials who were implicated in the case but cannot be made public, said Yelena Panfilova, head of Transparency International in Russia.

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