Two Russian state agencies launched internal investigations into allegations of corruption linked to purchasing cars from Germany's Daimler AG after three weeks of official silence, media reported on Friday.
Daimler on April 1 agreed to pay $185 million to settle charges of violating U.S. anti-bribery laws brought by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Daimler's German and Russian units each agreed to plead guilty to two counts of violating U.S. anti-bribery laws.
State news agency RIA quoted an unnamed spokesman for the Russian federal agency that provides security for officials as saying the agency's head had ordered an internal investigation into media reports about corruption.
"Specialists and experts from related units are studying documents linked to preparations and signing of contracts for car purchases for the Special Purpose Garage," RIA quoted the Federal Guards Service spokesman as saying.
The Special Purpose Garage provides transportation services for the president, prime minister, speakers of both chambers of parliament, former presidents of the USSR and Russia as well as foreign leaders on official visits to Russia.
Both President Dmitry Medvedev, who has made fighting corruption a priority, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ride in Mercedes cars. Neither has made public comments about the Daimler allegations.
Berlin-based group Transparency International rates Russia a joint 146th out of 180 nations in its Corruption Perception Index, with a higher number signifying a higher perception of corruption.
Separately, Russia's Interior Ministry has launched its own internal investigation.
"The internal security department is carrying out an investigation in connection with possible instances of corruption during purchases of Mercedes cars," Russian media quoted ministry spokesman Oleg Yelnikov as saying. In the SEC case, Daimler was accused of making some $56 million in bribes related to more than 200 transactions in 22 countries, including Russia, that earned the company $1.9 billion in revenue and at least $91.4 million in profits.
According to the charges, the alleged bribes were frequently made by over-invoicing customers and paying the excess back to top government officials or their proxies -- a practice commonly known as "kickbacks".
Several Russian commentators said three weeks of official silence on the Daimler case undermined the anti-corruption effort. On April 6, Medvedev chaired the meeting of his anti-corruption committee where the case was not even mentioned.
"The worst thing they could do was to call this meeting -- what was there to meet about? Here is the corruption, the Americans are spoon-feeding everything, they just have to open their mouth," wrote columnist Alexander Privalov in the influential magazine Expert.
ReutersLast Mod: 23 Nisan 2010, 21:53