Russia reveals how much it pays its spies

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s secretive domestic spy agency has joined a Kremlin transparency drive by disclosing the incomes of its leaders, in an apparent bid to deflect claims by activists that it employs some of Russia’s biggest bribe takers.

The director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov speaks on a phone as he arrives for a wreath laying ceremony marking Nazi Germany's 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall in Moscow June 22, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Marking the first time the powerful FSB has declared a senior official’s salary, its web site said chief Alexander Bortnikov earned 4.7 million roubles ($152,200) in 2009, over 20 percent more than the president or prime minister.

The FSB, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, became one of the most powerful bodies in Russia under the 2000-2008 presidency of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who is now prime minister. Leading business daily Kommersant said the FSB was three months late with its declarations.

President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree last year requiring senior bureaucrats to disclose incomes, real estate holdings and ownership of vehicles.

Medvedev earlier declared a 2009 income equivalent to 3.34 million roubles ($108,200). His political mentor Putin declared 3.89 million roubles ($126,000).

Since coming to office two years ago, the Kremlin chief has vowed repeatedly to eliminate corruption, though analysts say little has changed. Anti-graft activists said much of officials’ wealth may still be hidden from the public as the rules do not require them to disclose corporate ownership.

A Russian human rights group said in a report earlier this month that crime and law enforcement were increasingly entangled in Russia. Many Russians openly mock senior officials with lavish lifestyles who claim to earn middle-class incomes.

The campaigners Clean Hands said FSB officers had taken some of the biggest bribes, and were involved in protecting entrepreneurs or seizing businesses.

Russia is ranked 146th out of 180 nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

Medvedev’s December 2009 legislation barred officials from accepting gifts worth more than 3,000 roubles ($97) and said bureaucrats must inform state bodies if they planned to join commercial firms in sectors where there might be a conflict of interests.

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing Andrew Roche