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Russia's Medvedev seeks tougher corruption fines

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused some law enforcement officials on Tuesday of having direct links to organized crime and called for stiffer fines to punish bribery, but his anti-graft promises drew skepticism.

In his annual state of the nation speech, Medvedev referred to endemic bribe-taking, and documented cases of the torture and death of people in custody that have earned Russian police a fearful reputation.

“Unfortunately, we have witnessed several tragic events as a result of which our citizens were killed. The reasons for that included the irresponsibility of law enforcement and other government bodies, and sometimes their direct connection to criminal groups,” Medvedev said.

Russia is perceived as the most corrupt country in the G20, according to Transparency International, placing it on a par with Cambodia and Kenya. Medvedev’s critics say he has not delivered on his promises to crack down on graft since he took office in 2008.

A pledge to shrink the police force to reduce bureaucracy, and an order to officials and lawmakers to disclose their incomes, have both been met with little action.

“He spoke about corruption but what has he achieved? Has Russia achieved anything concrete in its anti-corruption drive? There is not a single mention of socio-economic progress, which figured very prominently in his (earlier) rhetoric,” Maria Lipman from the Moscow-based Carnegie Center told Reuters.

Most Russians consider corruption an unfortunate way of life, and must often pay bribes for things such as a driving license or university entrance. However, bribery is also used in darker ways such as escaping punishment for crimes.

“The giving and taking of bribes may be punished by fines of up to one hundred times the amount of the bribe,” Medvedev said.

Bribes are getting more expensive in Russia: they rose more than 30 percent this year from 2009, to an average of 30,500 roubles ($971), the Prosecutor General’s Office said last month.

Medvedev said on Tuesday he had sacked the police chief of the southern Krasnodar region after a gruesome murder committed there earlier this month that was linked to police.

Last week the region’s governor, Alexander Tkachyov, alleged police were linked to a criminal gang accused of killing 12 people, including four children, at a party.

“I heard a clear disappointment with the results that his subordinates have reached... this shows that Medvedev is losing patience,” analyst Alexei Mukhin from the Moscow-based Center for Political Information told Reuters following the speech.

Police officers and prosecutors have topped a black market list of jobs that can be bought freely in Russia, according to a report issued by human rights group Clean Hands.

Earlier this year Medvedev promised to reform the police and cut staff by 20 percent in the 1.4-million member Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the police, although analysts say they have seen little change so far.

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel and Thomas Grove; editing by David Stamp