The extravagantly tasteless mansion belonging to the head of a regional traffic police outfit was the butt of endless jokes on social media this week. The officer in question was accused of stealing $270,000 and is under investigation. The size of the haul — and the preposterous architecture — led to suspicions the case came to light as a way of channeling public anger about corruption before parliamentary elections.
- Alexei Safonov, the head of the traffic police in southern Russia’s Stavropol Region was arrested Tuesday along with several colleagues on accusations of corruption. Safonov has been in his post for 12 years.
- Investigators alleged Safronov and his accomplices were illegally selling documents required for the transportation of goods as well as personalized license plates, which had made them just under $270,000.
- On the same day, photos of Safonov’s gigantic mansion complete with stucco mouldings, garish furnishings and gold-plated toilets appeared on messaging app Telegram. Images like this are often leaked by police operatives.
- Safonov argued in court that the mansion was not his, that it actually belonged to his partner, and that it was already finished before they started living together. The cost of the mansion is estimated at up to $160,000.
- Predictably, the story triggered a wave of public anger and plenty of jokes at Safonov’s expense. Many wags on social media said the theft may be understandable, but the suspect’s outlandish taste was inexplicable.
Why the world should care: Corruption can generate huge anger in Russia and its potential for political mobilization is understood by both opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (who started out as an anti-corruption campaigner) and the authorities. So, it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that such an extravagant corruption case has emerged in the run-up to September parliamentary elections — no doubt it will be dealt with harshly and decisively.