SSCEC – The State Service for Combatting Economic Crimes

August 4th, 2014 Sections: Economy, Government and Politics, News, Organizations

On my dirst visit to Kyrgyzstan, back in 1994, I was taken up to Lake Issyk Kul where a group of us stayed in one of the large Sanatoria that the Soviets built on the northern shore.  There were five or six of us who planned to stay there for four or five days, but we joined a convoy of people who were going up to the lake for the weekend.

I remember one guy, a short stocky man with black hair, being pointed out to me and being told that he was with the Tax Police and everyone, but everyone, was scared stiff of the Tax Police … even more than they were of the KGB.

I didn’t give it much thought as I was only here for a two week holiday and thought I would never see him again … and sure enough, I didn’t.  He disappeared after breakfast on the second day, along with many others that we had traveled with up to the lake, and that was the last I saw of him.  

I do remember, however, wondering why there was a special “Tax Police” … and why people were so scared of them.  

Now I knew that no-one really likes paying taxes but that taxes were also a necessary fact of life … without tax revenues the government wouldn’t be able to fulfill its obligations and pay for and provide the various services that we all take for granted and have come to expect.    It’s part of the job of the tax authority, (Inland Revenue Service or whatever), to administer the system and to investigate any alleged cases of tax evasion, fraud and so forth, bringing any culprits that they happen to uncover “to book”.  

But … I wondered, did that really necessitate a separate police force.  

It seemed strange to me because, back in the UK, we had (have) a number of police forces that are organized on a territorial (or geographical) basis and each one may be divided into divisions or specialist departments.  When I thought about it, however, I had to admit that we also special forces such as the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police, but even the units responsible for matters of national security, (commonly known as “Special Branch”), are units of the territorial police forces rather than a separate force in its own right.

As it happens, the concept of “economic crimes” was quite important in the Soviet Union where ownership of foreign currency was considered “speculation” and treated very seriously.  The idea of tax evasion causing “damage” to the state budget (by diverting funds that should be paid in taxes) is also considered very seriously … hence the separate Police Force – to emphasize the importance of this particular type of crime and provide a specialist independent organization to tackle it – just like Elliot Ness’ Untouchables were established to enforce the Prohibition laws in Chicago in the 1920s.

There was a problem, however, in that it was granted broad and far reaching powers … and some of its officers proved susceptible to temptation and gave in to corrupt practices … for example, accepting bribes … even, according to some suggestions, searching out opportunities where they would be able to demand illegal payments rather than waiting for one to be offered.  

Maybe there was something in the suggestion that everyone was scared stiff of the Tax Police.

In 2012,  in response to rising criticism of the special Financial Police forces, the Prime Minister of the day, Omurbek Babanov, announced that the Force was to be abolished.  In it’s place the State Service for Combatting Economic Crimes was established as an anti-corruption agency.  Rather than simply transferring personnel from the former services into the new one, jobs were advertised and the selection process was actually televised.

The service has been quite active in pursuing corruption … but they are not just interested in corruption.  Last week, for example, two particular particular cases of forgery hit the headlines.

  • One concerned a number of 5000 Ruble notes that seem to have appeared in Kyrgyz banks … in one case involving some 40 notes –  that is, worth some 200,000 Rubles and in another 6 notes – worth some 30,000 Rubles.
  • The other referred to a group of counterfeiters who were apprehended with some fifty forged 1000 som notes.

In the past they have also

  • investigated the Traffic Police, and exposing practices whereby drunk drivers have been able to avoid prosecution;
  • pursued “illegal” casinos – which are currently banned in Kyrgyzstan; investigated cases of smuggling goods across the state border.

It was announced last week that since the beginning of the year they have identified some 445 cases causing “damage” worth some 600 million soms … that’s well over ten million dollars.  Oddly enough – only “about 139 cases” were referred to the courts … maybe the others are in the still in preparation).

However, it’s not all “good news” … last year some four officers of the service were arrested for traffic violations … including “driving under the influence”, and another was arrested after being caught accepting a bribe.

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