Belarus Corruption Wars

Belarusian authorities recently made a number of arrests among the top employers of state administration and companies management as a part of their war against corruption.

Albeit corruption appears to be a serious problem in Belarus, the latest intensified actions of fighting look more like a propaganda campaign. They also raise questions about internal games within the Belarusian KGB and other security services.

Transparency international ranks Belarus 143 out of 882 countries in terms of perception of corruption. Although the low level corruption in Belarus (police, hospitals, courts) appears to be not such a serious problem as in Russia, corruption at the top levels is very serious. Anti-corruption campaigns seem to deal more with the symptoms of corruption rather than its underlying causes. 

Arrests at the Top

Belarus has a long history of corruption wars. In 2009, KGB arrested Anatolii Gramovich, the head of Department of Financial Investigations. Paradoxically, the one responsible for fighting with corruption found himself under suspicion of abusing his power. Later on, Gleb Berdickii the executive of Secretariat of the Council of Republic, on the basis of similar accusations was arrested.

Two other high-flying officials shared the same fate. In December 2011, the Supreme Court condemned Igor Lazarenok (former executive of Belarusian air forces) to 9 years imprisonment and confiscation of property. He was accused of receiving material benefits for making favourable decisions. At the same time, due to suspicions of abuse of power, KGB arrested deputy of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Evgenii Poludzen.

They all have politically important positions in the administration. Such a “sudden” ostracism of these politicians had in the first place political reasons.

Arrests at the bottom

Already since the beginning of 2012 the KGB has intensified its actions to fight corruption, at that time particularly targeted at state enterprises management.

In February 2012, due to charge of accepting the bribe of 32 thousand dollars, the ex – director of the ‘Medplast’ enterprise -  a part of petrochemical concern ‘Belneftekhim’ - had sentenced 6 years’ imprisonment.

In April this year, KGB arrested deputy head of Administration Department of a penitentiary establishment in the south of Belarus. Intervention took place due to charges of abusing his competence for improving life conditions of some of the imprisoned, for what he was paid with the cars.

This June, KGB arrested 29 employees of the Gomel Miasokombinat, one of the  biggest meat processing company in Belarus. therein addition, three police officers had been charged with participation in the organized group responsible for theft of the production surpluses. Importantly, the investigation proved that, as in the previous cases, top management was involved in the criminal dealings.

Anti-Corruption Campaign or Just Window Dressing?

These rather spectacular arrests of top officials and managers of state-owned companies may suggest effectiveness of the ongoing campaign of war on corruption. Nonetheless, a closer look at these arrests may suggest otherwise.

The arrests are widely used for propaganda purposes to reach certain domestic objectives for the wider population of Belarus.

Furthermore, these actions can aim to signal to the society that the authorities can still control the situation in the state and, furthermore, struggles for fairness among citizens.

At the same time, keeping on mind that economic crisis are not so good, these arrests can positively influence the way the current president Alexandr Lukashenka is perceived in public opinion.

More importantly, these arrests is a result of internal struggle between various clans within security services of Belarus. Those who are charged of corruption can simply appear as not loyal enough to the strongest clan to manage the key state companies. 

What next?

The recent cases of arrests among the top state administration and management employers can demonstrate the intensification of campaign against corruption.

But the fundamental problem in Belarus is not that its officials are particularly dishonest. The authorities do not respect the rule of law, courts are not independent and underpaid officials will also be tempted to supplement their salaries with bribes. Others may simply have tough luck with being not a member of the “right group” and end up in prison for something, which the members of the “right group” are allowed to do with impunity.

A long-term solution would require more transparency and equality of all before the law at all levels, including the very top.

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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