Skip to main content

WikiLeaks: U.S. saw Moscow mayor atop corrupt 'pyramid'

From Matthew Chance, CNN
  • A U.S. Embassy document describes Moscow as a "kleptocracy"
  • Luzhkov was a political asset for Russia's ruling party
  • Businesses prefer paying off cops over gangsters, the document states

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Ousted Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov presided over a "pyramid" of corruption in the Russian capital that the Kremlin tolerated for political advantage, according to a document released by the website WikiLeaks on Wednesday.

Despite an anti-corruption campaign launched by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, "the extent of corruption in Moscow remains pervasive with Mayor Luzhkov at the top of the pyramid," according to a February cable from the U.S. Embassy there. "Luzhkov oversees a system in which it appears that almost everyone at every level is involved in some form of corruption or criminal behavior."

But for Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Luzhkov remained "a trusted deliverer of votes and influence" for their ruling party, United Russia. "Putin and Medvedev's dilemma is deciding when Luzhkov becomes a bigger liability than asset," the cable states.

Luzhkov apparently reached that point in September, when Medvedev abruptly fired the 74-year-old Moscow mayor. His dismissal came after criticism in Russia's state media that he had gone on vacation during a wave of forest fires that blanketed the capital in thick smog -- and after reports that he channeled funds and lucrative deals to his property-developer wife, now Russia's richest woman.

Putin: Democracy is alive in Russia
New arms race?

Luzhkov denied the allegations after his dismissal and told CNN that he was fired to enable the Kremlin to tighten its grip on power. He won a libel suit against an opposition leader who leveled allegations of corruption against the mayor, though the U.S. Embassy cable notes the judgment was issued on technical grounds.

The U.S. document, dated more than seven months before Luzhkov's dismissal, described a three-tiered "kleptocracy."

"Criminal elements enjoy a 'krysha' (a term from the criminal/mafia world literally meaning 'roof' or protection) that runs through the police, the Federal Security Service (FSB), Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), and the prosecutor's office, as well as throughout the Moscow city government bureaucracy," the document states. It added, "Luzhkov is at the top."

"Moscow business owners understand that it is best to get protection from the MVD and FSB (rather than organized crime groups) since they not only have more guns, resources, and power than criminal groups, but they are also protected by the law," the cable continued. "For this reason, protection from criminal gangs is no longer so high in demand. Police and MVD collect money from small businesses while the FSB collects from big businesses."

In addition, according to one source quoted in the document, Luzhkov and other regional leaders were kicking payments up to the Kremlin.

"The governors collect money based on bribes, almost resembling a tax system, throughout their regions," the cable quotes that source, whose name was redacted.