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Russian ex-police chief jailed for life

A purge in the top ranks of the Interior Ministry and an unprecedented life sentence for a police major who killed two people on a drunk shooting spree has raised the stakes in a controversial anti-corruption campaign spearheaded by President Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev sacked 16 police generals, two of them deputies of Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev on Thursday, one day before Denis Yevsyukov was found guilty on two murder charges and became the first police officer to get a life sentence in Russia.

One of those sacked was the deputy head of the Krasnodar regional police, Boris Martynov. The department of whistleblower Alexei Dymovsky of Novorossiisk was under his jurisdiction.
It was the most sweeping gesture yet in a reform campaign announced Dec. 24 (coinciding with the start of Yevsyukov`s trial). Then, Medvedev promised to slash the police force by 20 per cent, raise police salaries and increase efficiency.

Last week`s reshuffle included a proposed presidential bill that would slash the Interior Ministry`s headquarters staff from 19,000 to 10,000 people and introduce tougher anti-corruption measures. Detox centers would be placed under the control of health officials, and police would no longer be responsible for the expulsion of foreign nationals - a new job for the Federal Migration Service.

"We should work to increase the responsibility of law enforcement officers," Medvedev said in a speech on Thursday to the Interior Ministry board. "I also suggested that officers be held criminally responsible for failing to obey a legitimate and duly given order."

One amendment would make punishment for a crime more severe if the perpetrator was a police officer.

But another measure would forbid police officers from criticising their superiors - a statute that would make it nearly impossible to protect whistleblowers like Alexei Dymovsky, whose November YouTube appeal to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about corruption complaints was thought to be another factor in Medvedev`s reform drive.

A leading NGO was generally supportive of the measures.

"Raising the responsibility for police officers is a major step," said Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee and a former FSB officer. "Ideally this should start applying to all power structures."

However, "the bureaucracy is in a state of fear, due, in part, to the Dymovsky case." The anti-whistleblower clause is a concession to that bureaucracy, Kabanov said.
"Unfortunately, the process is self-replicating," and every positive measure is accompanied by a negative one, he said.

But a number of police officers interviewed were critical of the reform campaign, some saying it was going in the wrong direction and others saying it did not make much sense.
"The fact that they`re going to forbid criticising your superiors - I`m not sure how that fits with the Constitution," said Mikhail Pashkin, chairman of the Moscow police trade union and a vocal critic of Interior Ministry Rashid Nurgaliyev. "They`re afraid of glasnost most of all."

"The main thing is, ?What are they reforming the system for?` And I haven`t really heard their objectives. They are turning the police into Interior troops. And you know what those are meant to do."

Meanwhile, pressure on Dymovsky was increasing. Charged last month with embezzlement and placed into custody, the former officer was also undergoing psychiatric tests. Supporters said that prosecutors simply couldn`t find evidence against him.

Protests were held in support of Dymovsky in several Russian towns, including his home town of Novorossiisk and St. Petersburg. People demanded further reforms, proposing that police be held accountable to outside checks.

Dymovsky`s representative, Vadim Karastelev, was detained Friday afternoon and jailed for seven days while handing out pamphlets for a Sunday protest in Novorosiisk.
"They asked me to talk to them in the House of Culture, which I refused to do, so they detained me by force."

Speaking by telephone from the police precinct where he was arrested, Karastelev said that he was detained personally by Novorossiisk police chief Vladimir Chernositov and local district chief Valery Medvedev, whom Dymovsky had criticised in his YouTube complaint.

Former police officials who have helped Dymovsky called Medvedev`s measures counterproductive. "How is an officer going to tell if the order he`s being given is legal or not?" asked Alexei, who had served as a police operative for 16 years. "Is he going to walk around with the Criminal Code in his hand? Already he doesn`t have any time to actually solve crimes."

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