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Russia's Putin criticizes customs officers' YouTube video
Wed, Feb 16 13:22 PM EST
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By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Wednesday criticized a group of customs officers for a video clip they posted on YouTube celebrating the lavish lifestyle they say comes with their government jobs.

The mock rap video http://link.reuters.com/dyt97r made in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok shows customs officials in sunglasses driving a Rolls Royce and drinking champagne surrounded by scantily clad women.

"You can't even imagine how the customs officials have fun," officers sing in chorus as a topless woman clutches customs forms to her breasts.

No disciplinary action has been taken to date against the officers who posted the video, but Putin, Russia's paramount leader, condemned the bling-filled video's tongue-in-cheek look at corruption.

"Discipline is needed in several of the divisions, we have to raise it a little," Putin said at a meeting with the head of the Federal Customs Service.

"I like to joke and laugh a little myself, but this kind of creativity should be saved for a talent show," said Putin, who has hinted he may run for president in 2012.

The average monthly salary for customs officials -- $1,000 -- is also the size of the average bribe in Russia, according to a recent report in financial daily Vedomosti.

Russians lament corruption and bribe-taking by government officials to carry out standard procedures and the customs service is perceived as a major offender.

From cars to wine, imports are sought after in Russia and often cost at least twice as much as in the country of origin.

Corruption is also considered the biggest obstacle to doing business in Russia, and investors have demanded more measures to fight the growing problem.

Berlin-based graft watchdog Transparency International ranks Russia 154th out of 178 countries in a corruption perception index, putting it on par with Laos and Cambodia.

Government jobs are among the most sought-after and are often sold for thousands of dollars in Russia, where bureaucrats often supplement modest incomes with sometimes huge bribes.

Some visitors to the YouTube site praised the video, including a suggestion that they should go on tour. Others scathingly mocked the idea and criticized the clip.

"What tour? They make more on bribes than any star. There is a stream of goods flowing in from China through Vladivostok, They are literally raking in the money," said one person who identified themselves as GiusAppuleiusDiocles.

President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday sent a bill to parliament increasing the fines on officials caught taking bribes to up to 100 times the size of the original bribe.

Many Russians say paying bribes has become a regular feature in almost every sphere of life, from ensuring attention in the health care industry to getting better marks in university or evading penalties from traffic police. Bigger bribes are paid by companies to secure contracts or other business.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)


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