Judicial Bribery

40 russian politics and law

40

English translation © 2013 M.E. Sharpe, Inc., from the Russian text © 2012
“Otechestvennye zapiski.” “Sudebnaia vlast’ i vziatki,” otechestvennye zapiski,
2012, no. 2 (www.strana-oz.ru/2012/2/sudebnaya-vlast-i-vzyatki [accessed 21 June
2013—Ed.]). Translated by Stephen D. Shenfield.

russian politics and law, vol. 51, no. 4, July–August 2013, pp. 40–47.
© 2013 M.E. Sharpe, Inc. All rights reserved. Permissions: www.copyright.com
ISSN 1061–1940 (print)/ISSN 1558–0962 (online)
DOI: 10.2753/RUP1061-1940510404

Vladimir rimskii

Bribery and the Judiciary

the judicial reform has made bribery more widespread in the russian
courts, with business people the main target of extortion.

Corruption is correctly defined as actions of an official, carried out by
any means and under any conditions, that—irrespective of motive—are
aimed at extracting personal or corporate gain from the official’s social
status or position in the government, a private business, or a nonprofit or
public organization. Thus understood, corruption encompasses not only
illegal actions but also unethical and amoral actions that do not violate
the law as well as actions that society recognizes as unfair. The classi-
fication of such actions, however, is to a large extent subjective: where
some people discern manifestations of corruption, others see a peculiar
behavioral norm. For example, some people consider it corrupt to hand
a small gift to an official who has conscientiously performed his duties,
while others do not view the gift in that light.

It is difficult to establish legal proof of a corrupt action. As a result,
despite the prevalence of corruption in Russia, criminal cases pertaining
to corruption are extremely rare. The report on the fight against corruption
in 2011 sent by the Prosecutor General’s Office to the State Duma gives
a figure of 11,921 cases submitted to the procuracy for prosecution, of
which a mere handful made it to court.1 The small number of criminal
cases brought against judges enabled Ol’ga Egorova, the presiding judge
of the Moscow City Court, to declare that in courts in the two capitals

july–august 2013 41

“98 percent of judges are honest, and we ourselves will deal with the
remaining 2 percent within the judicial system; we will get rid of such
judges very quickly.”2 But if we take into account that corruption cannot
be reduced to bribery, and especially not to legally proven bribery, then
we must admit that we need more objective grounds to conclude that
there is no corruption in the courts.

Over the last ten years, the INDEM Foundation has conducted four
formalized questionnaire surveys on corruption, including corruption
in the judicial branch, using a representative nationwide sample. The
World Bank commissioned the first survey, conducted in 2001 after
three years of in-depth study of Russian corruption by other methods;
the Soros Foundation commissioned the second, conducted in 2002;
INDEM conducted the third independently in 2005; and the Ministry of
Economic Development commissioned the fourth, conducted in 2010.3
In addition to the surveys, the foundation hosted semiformalized inter-
views with experts and focus groups with citizens and entrepreneurs. In
2007–9, the foundation also carried out the Judicial Reform in Russia:
Institutional–Societal Analysis of Transformation, Revision of Results,
Determination of Prospects project.4 Those involved in the project studied
citizens’ and entrepreneurs’ interactions with the judicial branch. Below
I present my interpretation of some of the results of these studies—an
interpretation that does not necessarily reflect the position of the INDEM
Foundation.

Assessments of the Level of Everyday Bribery in the Courts

One object of investigation was the market in corruption-related services,
where government agencies render services to citizens in exchange for
bribes. We might call this the market in everyday corruption, since it is
the place where citizens mostly solve personal problems. Another object
of investigation, to which this article devotes only minimal attention, is
the market in business-related corruption, where government agencies
render services to business people in exchange for bribes. The studies
did not examine the market associated with illegal financial operations
carried out with judicial support or other forms of corruption that are
difficult to assess by means of sociological research.

Table 1 presents some frequency characteristics of the market in ev-
eryday corruption in the courts. They are compared with mean values
for fifteen other kinds of state services (using data from the same mass

42 russian politics and law

surveys). As can be seen, in all years the risk of corruption facing citi-
zens when they go to court exceeded the analogous risks associated with
applying for other state services, although the differences lie within the
range of statistical error. During the same period, citizens became less
willing to pay bribes in connection with court cases; this rate remained
below the average level for citizens applying for state services. Hence
over the last decade the courts have not differed from other state institu-
tions in terms of the pressure they exert on citizens to engage in corrupt
practices.

Table 2 presents data on the size of the market in everyday corruption in
the courts. It also shows an additional indicator—the proportion of bribes
associated with court cases relative to all bribes in the sixteen markets in
everyday corruption that were studied. It is clear that the total size of all
the markets increased to an insignificant degree, roughly corresponding
to the level of inflation. At the same time, the proportion of bribes associ-
ated with court cases did not exceed 10 percent of the total and steadily
declined. Most likely, this finding reflects our citizens’ unwillingness to
take matters to court, while the judiciary, as I show below, has reoriented
itself toward extorting bribes from business people.

The average sizes of the bribes that citizens gave in connection with
court cases, calculated from the survey data, are shown in Table 3. Also
shown is the place occupied by this kind of bribe in the general list ordered
by decreasing size. In 2001, the average size of the bribes that citizens
paid to the judiciary was the largest; in 2005, it fell to second place;
and in 2010, to third. The absolute size of the “judicial” bribe declined
somewhat from 2001 to 2005 but increased again by 2010.

Thus, the level of bribery associated with court cases remained roughly
constant over the 2001–10 period. In terms of the risk of corruption fac-
ing citizens and the average size of bribes, the courts during this period
surpassed many other state institutions.

Assessments of the Level of Business-Related Corruption
in the Judicial System

Due to the very small sample sizes in the category “business people”
(the 2010 survey did not include the market in business-related corrup-
tion due to limited resources) and the frequency with which business
people refused to answer questions about bribery of officials, we could
make statistically reliable estimates only of the size of large markets in

july–august 2013 43

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44 russian politics and law

Table 3

Trend in Average Size of Bribes in Rubles

Market in everyday
corruption

2001 2005 2010

size
place in

list size
place in

list size
place in

list
In connection with
court cases 13,964 1 9,570 2 12,643 3

Average for all
markets 1,817 — 2,780 — 5,285 —

business-related corruption. Nevertheless, we did uncover some patterns
of markets in business-related corruption, and—judging by other scholars’
work—these patterns still exist.

Tables 4 and 5 show estimates of the size of the market in business-
related corruption in the three branches of government and of the size
of bribes. Table 4 demonstrates the leading position of the executive
branch and a sharp growth in the size of the market in all branches over
the 2001–5 period. Some changes also took place in the structure of the
market in business-related corruption: the market shares of the legislative
and judicial branches increased. In particular, the share of the judiciary
rose from 0.9 to about 5.5 percent, with the absolute volume of bribes
growing by sixty times—considerably higher than the average rate for
all government institutions, which was a little above nine. The market
in business-related corruption in the legislative branch grew even more
rapidly, by a factor of 397—admittedly, from a very low initial level.

Table 5 demonstrates substantial growth—by almost twenty-five
times—in the size of bribes given by business people to the judiciary over
the 2001–5 period. This is almost double the growth factor of the average
amount in bribes in all markets in business-related corruption—about
thirteen. The growth factor of the average size of bribes given by business
people to legislators was even higher—over thirty-five times.

In 2005, the average amount of a bribe to the judiciary was over
2,500,000 rubles, but such bribes are relatively rare. This rarity explains
why the size of the market in business-related corruption is considerably
larger in the executive than in the judicial branch.

Let us recall that a reform of the judicial system was carried out in
2001–5—accompanied, in particular, by a substantial increase in judges’
pay. But instead of the anticipated reduction in the level of corruption,

july–august 2013 45

both the size and the total amount of bribes to the judiciary increased.
At the same time, the bribes given by business people greatly exceeded
those given by ordinary citizens, both individually and collectively. For
this reason, representatives of the judicial branch did not renounce cor-
ruption as a result of the judicial reform but—fully in accordance with
market principles—became more active in extorting bribes from business
people, who are materially much better off than other citizens.

Business People on the Level of Bribery in the Courts

In 2008, the INDEM Foundation conducted a special study of bribery in a
formalized questionnaire survey of business people as part of the Judicial
Reform in Russia: Institutional–Societal Analysis of Transformation,

Table 4

Trend in Markets in Business-Related Corruption

Market in
business-
related
corruption
(per branch)

Size of market
(millions of rubles) Share of total market

Growth
factor in

market size2001 2005 2001 2005

Legislative
branch 1.71 679.44 0.0017 0.071 397.35

Executive
branch 1,003.45 8,358.43 0.9897 0.874 8.33

Judicial branch 8.73 526.00 0.0086 0.055 60.25
Average for all
branches 1,013.89 9,563.87 1 1 9.43

Table 5

Trend in Average Sizes of Bribes in Markets in Business-Related
Corruption

Market in business-related
corruption (per branch)

Average amount of
bribe in rubles

Growth factor in
amount of bribe2001 2005

Legislative branch 17,429 614,448 35.25
Executive branch 288,796 1,890,649 6.55
Judicial branch 101,245 2,527,675 24.97
Average for all branches 305,985 4,110,125 13.43

46 russian politics and law

Revision of Results, Determination of Prospects project.5 For understand-
able reasons, only indirect questions were asked. The survey showed
that about 10 percent of business people regard bribery in the courts as
episodic. The majority (66.9 percent) believe that it is a more or less
widespread phenomenon. We should keep in mind that respondents’
opinions are not always based on personal experience; a major role here
is played by information obtained from friends and relatives, the Internet,
and the mass media.

Respondents’ answers when asked whether other business people
are willing to give bribes in court cases indirectly reflected their own
willingness to do the same. The majority of respondents (65.4 percent)
answered in the affirmative, although 40.7 percent of them thought that
a business person would resort to bribery only after exhausting all other
means of solving the problem.

But willingness to engage in bribery is not the same thing as actually
doing so. So we asked our business respondents whether other business
people in fact bribe judicial personnel. Over one-half (51.3 percent) of
the respondents refused to answer this question. Our data indicate that,
on average, only about 10.5 percent of business people do not bribe ju-
dicial personnel; moreover, this indicator declines as the business gets
larger (12.8 percent of small business owners, 8.2 percent of medium-
sized business owners; and 7.3 percent of big business people do not pay
bribes in court cases). Thus, bribery is very widespread in the Russian
courts, and the larger the business, the less likely its owner is to refuse
to bribe judicial personnel.

The Courts Have Not Become an Institution for Protecting
Citizens’ Rights

As the INDEM Foundation’s studies of the judicial branch show, 13.5
percent of citizens and 31.2 percent of business people apply to the
courts for the protection of their rights and freedom. Both business
people and ordinary citizens often pay bribes to obtain court rulings
in their favor. Many others—28.9 percent of citizens and 34.6 percent
of business people—cope with such problems on their own. If we also
take into account the comparatively low level of trust in the courts, as
revealed by the studies, then we have to recognize that the Russian ju-
diciary is as yet incapable of performing one of its most important legal
functions—protecting the rights of citizens and business people.

july–august 2013 47

In addition, most Russian citizens believe that there is no point in su-
ing government employees or private business owners. This belief causes
Russian citizens to draw no distinction between the judiciary and other
branches of power; they do not regard the judicial branch as independent
of the executive and legislative branches.

During the judicial reform, Russian judges began to orient themselves
more strongly toward the interests and priorities of those who ensure them
a high level of well-being, not toward the law. As a result, the level of
bribery in the Russian courts did not decline but rose. Continuation of the
judicial reform under such conditions will not ensure real independence
for the courts or inspire greater trust in them among citizens, nor will it
reduce the level of corruption or turn the judiciary into a real system for
ensuring justice and the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Notes

1. Anastasiia Kornia and Liliia Biriukova, “Vziatki v sud ne idut,” Vedomosti,
no. 54, 27 March 2012 (www.vedomosti.ru/politics/news/1566735/vzyatki_v_sud_
ne_idut [all Web site addresses accessed 21 June 2013—Ed.]).

2. “Predsedatel’ Mosgorsuda raskritikovala sudebnykh pristavov,” Interfaks, 15
November 2011, Moscow (www.interfax.ru/news.asp?id=216997).

3. “Sostoianie bytovoi korruptsii v Rossiiskoi Federatsii (na osnovanii rezul’tatov
sotsiologicheskogo issledovaniia, provedennogo vo vtorom polugodii 2010 g.).”
Moscow, 2011 (www.indem.ru/corrupt/doklad_cor_INDEM_FOM_2010.pdf).

4. The main findings of this project were presented in G.A. Satarov, V.L. Rimskii,
and Iu.N. Blagoveshchenskii, sotsiologicheskoe issledovanie rossiiskoi sudebnoi
vlasti (St. Petersburg: Norma, 2010) (http://indem.ru/Proj/SudRef/SocIsRoSuVlas.
pdf).

5. Ibid.

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