At least three senior Soviet officials are reported by Soviet and Western sources to have been dismissed or arrested in an anticorruption crackdown.
According to the reports, which could not be officially confirmed, the Ministry of Culture official in charge of the more than 80 Soviet circuses, Anatoly Kolevatov, was arrested and accused of extortion after police raided his apartment and discovered $1 million worth of diamonds and about $280,000 in various foreign currencies.
A senior official of the Ministry of Interior, Gen. Konstantin Zotov, was said to have been removed from his post as director of the visa office. Officials there confirmed today that Zotov was no longer head of the office, saying he had resigned for unspecified reasons.
Informants said they believe Zotov's removal was not linked to any personal irregularities but to his failure to prevent corrupt practices in his department.
Kolevatov's office at the Ministry of Culture has been sealed by police and his name plate removed, according to a reliable witness. The reported arrest of Kolevatov, whose rank was just a notch below deputy minister, was linked by the informants to an earlier arrest of a former circus performer known under the name of Boris Tsigan, or "Boris the gypsy," and rumored to be a close friend of President Leonid Brezhnev's daughter Galina, 54.
Galina Brezhnev's first husband was a circus performer and her friendships with various circus artists have been a source of gossip here. She is now married to Lt. Gen. Yuri Churbanov, who is deputy minister of interior.
It was not possible to determine whether she indeed had any contacts with Tsigan or Kolevatov. There were no indications that she was involved in the scandal. In any case, observers point out that the actions of politicians' children here rarely have consequences for the parents, beyond occasional embarrassment.
According to the sources, police had found a large quantity of diamonds horded by Tsigan. There was speculation that Tsigan may have led the police to Kolevatov, who as the chief of the National Circus Directorate was said to have extorted bribes from circus performers wanting to travel abroad.
It was speculated that Kolevatov and Tsigan may have worked as a team. Kolevatov's position gave him the ultimate say on which groups and individuals would be sent on tours abroad. It is believed that he had extorted money and valuables from various artists who wanted to take part in these trips.
According to the sources, a major investigation is underway, with various artists being summoned for questioning.
Kolevatov's deputy, Viktor Gorsky, was also reported to have been arrested on corruption charges. The circus directorate is in charge of about 20,000 circus employes, including 6,000 artists and entertainers that are featured in ice ballets and internationally acclaimed troupes.
According to the sources, the investigation of the Soviet visa office, known under the acronym OVIR, has produced evidence that some officials had extorted money from applicants.
Unconfirmed reports said some applicants had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 or more to obtain OVIR's permission to travel abroad. It was not known whether any OVIR officials have been arrested.
While it was not possible to obtain any official comment on these reports circulating in Moscow, the government's campaign against corruption has been in full swing since a secret Central Committee letter on the subject that was read at closed Communist Party meetings last November.
Since then, hardly a day passed without public dislosures of bribery, extortion and speculation. Countless officials, managers and sales personnel have been dismissed, fined or reprimanded. A cotton mill manager in Kirgizia was sentenced to death for running a million-ruble racket. A policeman in Azerbaijan was given 11 years for taking bribes.
In the glut of detail, however, there have been no reports of corruption involving top officials.
The media reported a major diamond scandal last December, raising the question of how various citizens could buy diamonds, a major export of the Soviet Union, worth 20,000 rubles or more. The average monthly wage here is 175 rubles. The ruble is officially valued at $1.40. Among the diamond purchasers mentioned in the media accounts was the manager of the prestigious Vakhtangov Theater here.
The last known official reprimand over corruption involving a senior offical was that of the late minister of culture, Ekatarina Furtseva. She was accused of using her position to buy state materials at bargain prices to build a fancy country home. She died in 1974.