Viktor Ivanovich Vishnyakov, formerly a deputy minister in agriculture machine building and now serving 15 years in prison for corruption, once lived the good life in the Soviet Union.
At 56, he had a prestigious job, access to scarce goods, not one but two country houses or dachas, and so much money that he buried a thermos full of jewels in one of his gardens.
According to an account of his rise and fall published yesterday in the government newspaper Izvestia, Vishnyakov was a master at arranging things -- cars, apartments, medical treatment and government favors -- for fees ranging from $5,000 to $15,000.
He was known, Izvestia said, as a man "who could do anything."
He even managed to move his mistress from Rostov to Moscow, where it is impossible to live without a special permit -- by persuading his chauffeur to get a divorce, marry her and give her a legal address -- in exchange for a new apartment and a car.
When things got hot, and others involved in his circle were caught, Vishnyakov told the driver that no one could touch him.
That was before the driver gave evidence against him, uncovering a chain of corruption and "moral decay" that Izvestia said involved 100,000 rubles (about $130,000 at the official exchange rate) in cash bribes and another 100,000 rubles in speculation with cars.
As told in Izvestia, the Vishnyakov story is a cautionary tale. It describes in detail the life of a Soviet citizen who joined the partisans at 13 to fight the invading Germans, went on to higher education, wrote a thesis on the durability of metals, climbed the ministerial ladder, was honored and promoted finally to deputy minister, only to fall sway to the temptation of power, glory and money.
"Maybe," the defendant told the court in the newspaper account, "it happened when I for the first time bought a foreign tape recorder on the black market."
Vishnyakov's tale serves well at a time when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the press are waging a campaign to rid the government of corrupt, inefficient and self-glorifying bureaucrats.
The moral this time was delivered with a stiff sentence. The newspaper article, which did not give the date of the trial, amplified on the theme of corrupt officialdom by noting that Vishnyakov's first crime was thinking that he was "not like everyone else, that [he] could do things that were not allowed anyone else."
In the article, the driver, Sergei, admitted in court that he had finally realized that a deputy minister -- whom he once thought of as the "ideal among leaders" -- can be a crook like any other.
"You are the same kind of swindler as us, your friends, and in no way can you set yourself apart from us," said Sergei, according to Izvestia.