Russian Site-Blocking Operation Embroiled In Corruption Scandal

from the shocking dept

Rozcomnadzor has been featured in our pages often as of late. The Russian agency tasked with censoring the internet for any number of reasons including copyright, discussions about illicit behavior, and supposed security risks from anonymous speech, has actually proven itself to be far better at sweeping up innocent sites in its efforts in the kind of collateral damage normally reserved for cluster bombs. This was always going to be the case with a censorship operation such as this, with the only real question being whether it would be corruption or ineptitude that would take center stage.

Thus far, ineptitude has been the order of the day. But that seems to be changing, with several people at the top of Rozcomnadzor coming under investigation for what would amount to fairly blatant corruption.

News that something was potentially amiss began leaking out two weeks ago, when Russian publication Vedomosti reported on a court process in which the initials of the defendants appeared to coincide with officials at Rozcomnadzor. The publication suspected that three men were involved; Roskomnadzor spokesman Vadim Ampelonsky, head of the legal department Boris Yedidin, and Alexander Veselchakov, who acts as an advisor to the head of the department monitoring radio frequencies.

The prosecution’s case indicated that the defendants were involved in “fraud committed by an organized group either on an especially large scale or entailing the deprivation of citizen’s rights.” Indeed, no further details were made available, with the head of Rozcomnadzor Alexander Zharov claiming he knew nothing about a criminal case and refusing to answer questions.

You might be suspecting that the sort of corruption alleged here involves how the agency is whitelisting or blacklisting sites in its censorship duties. It’s actually corruption in the opposite direction, however. The Russian government is alleging that these three agency executives created fake employees for the organization and then siphoned the government money for their salaries into their own pockets. Government corruption being something of a Russian national pastime, you would be forgiven for thinking this would induce nothing more than shrugs from the Russian government. Still, it appears you would be very, very wrong about that.

Four employees of the agency ended up being charged with fraud after what looks to be a fairly deep investigation by Russian FSB.

It’s reported that FSB officers have been spying on Rozcomnadzor officials for six months, listening to their phone conversations, monitoring their bank accounts, and even watching the ATM machines they used.

Local media reports indicate that the illegal salary scheme ran from 2012 until February 2017 and involved some 20 million rubles ($347,000) of illegal payments. These were allegedly used to retain ‘valuable’ employees when their regular salaries were not lucrative enough to keep them at the site-blocking body.

The obvious question should be this: if a censorship agency like Rozcomnadzor is willing to put these kinds of corrupt practices in place up the chain to the higher levels of government, is there any doubt at all that it would behave equally or more corrupt down the chain to those under its responsibilities?

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Comments on “Russian Site-Blocking Operation Embroiled In Corruption Scandal”

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MyNameHere (profile) says:

You hit the nail on the head, but ignored the ringing sound it made and moved on to trying to shade the concept and not the operators.

Russia is the land of corruption. It was once said that if you operated a business in Moscow, your total legal tax bill would in some cases exceed 100% of your income. Almost everyone in Russia spends their lives trying to figure out how to get around the rules to make the most profit. If you are on “team Putin” it’s apparently a lot easier.

That a couple of чино́вник types decided to stick their noses in the public trough for an extra couple of bites of dinner isn’t really relevant to the work the do. It’s just the way Russia works.

“The obvious question should be this: if a censorship agency like Rozcomnadzor is willing to put these kinds of corrupt practices in place up the chain to the higher levels of government, is there any doubt at all that it would behave equally or more corrupt down the chain to those under its responsibilities?”

Actually, the obvious question is, why do you think the two are directly related? They are corrupt for their own benefit, not for the benefit of others. Unless there is a really big payday in it for them, it’s not particularly relevant.

Good try, but wow, you are reaching!

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