To fight corruption, Russian farmer publishes newspaper

When Eduard Mochalov tried to have the people who stole his cattle and pig farm brought to justice, he spent eight months in jail on charges he says were cooked up. He appealed to Vladimir Putin and even set himself on fire outside the Kremlin in protest, but still couldn't draw attention to his cause.

Now, Mochalov has found a new life as a journalist investigating corruption in his native region, fueled by tips from disgruntled businessmen and government workers. Undeterred by a system where the law is selectively used to protect the powerful and crack down on critics, Mochalov has quickly earned cult status — not to mention the ire of countless local officials — throughout the small province of Chuvashia.

Roughly once a month, he publishes a free newspaper called Vzyatka, or The Bribe, which rails against what it calls "Chuvash kingpins'' who steal from the province's budget. Headlines include "The Governor of Chuvashia's Family Business'' and "If Nobody's Been Found Guilty, That Means They're Already In Power.'' The paper has proved so popular that with a print run of 20,000 he has trouble meeting demand.

In Chuvashia, 650 km east of Moscow, Mochalov devotes all his energy to campaigning against local corruption. "If they (Chuvashian officials) brought charges based on my investigations, they'd have to arrest the entire provincial government,'' he said.

What started as an attempt to end the legal struggles over his farm has become an all-consuming mission. The newspaper's high costs — each print run costs 100,000 rubles ($3,150) — have essentially forced Mochalov to give up his farm: He sold all his livestock and equipment years ago, and rents out some of the buildings to local services like banks and post offices.

Seven years ago, Mochalov says, he failed to pay a policeman a bribe. Shortly afterward, men burst into his office and presented tax papers showing that Mochalov had sold them the farm. When he filed a legal appeal he was sent to jail. Later, however, he succeeded in restoring his legal ownership of the farm.

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