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Russian health insurance fund top officials arrested for bribery - 2

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MOSCOW, November 17 (RIA Novosti) - Six top officials from a Russian government health insurance fund were arrested on charges of bribe-taking Friday in what is seen as the latest move in President Vladimir Putin's offensive against corruption in public administration.

Some 600 bribery and embezzlement cases have been opened since July, when Putin, who set the fight against corruption as a national priority, ordered the new prosecutor general, Yury Chaika, to draw up an anti-corruption strategy. The president had dismissed Chaika's predecessor for a lax approach to corrupt officials.

First Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman said in a newspaper interview earlier this month that annual corruption in Russia had reached $240 billion, a sum almost equal to the federal budget.

On Friday, a Moscow district court issued two-month arrest warrants for the director of the Federal Mandatory Medical Insurance Fund (FOMS), for three of his deputies, and for three department heads after a probe revealed evidence of "financial irregularities."

"The Basmanny court has sanctioned the arrest of Audit Department Head Tatyana Markova, Financial Department Head Nina Frolova, Deputy Directors Natalia Klimova and Dmitry Shilyayev, and Chief Accountant Galina Bykova," Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva said.

Earlier, she reported the court had ordered the arrest of the fund's chief, Andrei Taranov, and his deputy Dmitry Usenko.

The Prosecutor General's Office said in a web posting, "Evidence uncovered in the course of an investigation into the criminal case indicates that the FOMS officials received bribes from the heads of regional branches of the fund and representatives of pharmaceutical and other commercial companies involved in distributing medications and medical equipment."

Kommersant, a leading Russian business daily, said Friday that Taranov and Usenko had been detained on suspicion of bribery and misuse of government allocations.

Earlier this week, searches were conducted and documents seized in a police raid on the insurance fund's central office in Moscow and eight of its regional offices, as well as on the headquarters of partner firms and companies involved in a state-run program to provide free or subsidized drugs to low-income population groups.

The fund declined to comment on the issue. "I can neither confirm nor deny anything. I have nothing to tell you on the matter," the fund's press secretary told a RIA Novosti correspondent.

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