On 'bribes' and the international adoption business [letter to the editor]

Date: 2006-01-20


We have followed your coverage of the adoption company Yunona. We do appreciate the fact that your latest article explains that my husband, Alex Nikolenko, quit the company prior to any consumer complaints. Thank you for writing it.

One issue, though, that concerns us is the concentration of your Jan. 17 article on "bribes" of officials. I think Americans misunderstand the word "bribes" in how things occur outside of the Western world. The fact is that, unfortunately, it is only in the Western world that business regularly occurs without "bribes." The word "bribe" means "money given with a view to corrupting the behavior of the person." Basically, it means money given outside of the rule of the law. In the second and third world, because systems do not work with the same uniformity or diligence as they do in the Western world, money is often given to the assisting person in the country to make it work with the same diligence as in the United States.

In countries outside of the Western world, this is not necessarily considered "corrupt," because it has been the normal way of conducting business for years and years. I think what Alex was trying to say in your article was that when he worked for Yunona between 1995 and 2000, the coordinators in Russia worked the way Russia worked, meaning they would pay requested "vzyatki" (translated into English as "bribes") so that the parents would receive their children in a reasonable manner. If they did not do this, the parents might have to wait weeks for their children, or the child might be given to another adoptive family through another organization that was willing to pay the money. This is why Alex stated that all adoption organizations at the time were involved in it, because this was the normal way of working with officials in Russia at the time. If an adoption organization did not pay "vzyatki," they could not regularly complete successful adoptions.

Alex can only comment on how things worked from 1995 to 2000, when there were few laws in the former Soviet Union concerning adoption. It is our understanding that more recently, due to the high volume of adoptions from the former Soviet Union, those countries have tried to bring some regulation to the adoption industry. We cannot comment on what the current adoption regulations are and how Yunona did or did not comply with them, since Alex did not work with Yunona during this period. All we can say is that from 1995-2000, Yunona and all other U.S. adoption organizations worked with coordinators located in the foreign country (in Yunona's case, Russia), and these coordinators in 99 percent of the cases had to pay some kind of "vzyatki" or the adoption would be delayed or perhaps fall through.

In the U.S., "vzyatki" or "bribes" also occur regularly although they use different terminology. If a person wants a passport quicker or a professional work visa quicker, they can have this happen by paying the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services additional money to "expedite" the process. In the case of a professional work visa, the applicant must pay the USCIS $1,000, in addition to the regular application fee! This is a very hefty fee, considering the application itself costs under $200. If the applicant does not pay, their application will be thrown to the end of the line and might not even be considered for seven or eight months! Thus, even our own government is forcing this type of money-based behavior. The reason this is not called a "bribe" in the U.S. is because it is written within U.S. regulations, thus it is not considered "corrupt." The only difference in the processing of the documents is that they are putting the application at the head of the line. This is the exact same thing that was happening in Russia between 1995 and 2000, except that the "vzyatki" was simply something normal in the industry business practice, and not something that was officially written into the law. Basically, same process, different terminology.

From reading your article, I really felt that this needed to be clarified. We were also a little disappointed that you didn't mention the DA's non-commitment to this case. It has been several days, and no one from the DA's office has called my husband to ask him any questions about the case, or to explain how he got involved in the allegations against the company, when the complaints occurred three years after his departure from the company. We really feel that the DA's office is not doing their job, and we feel that Alex deserves an apology.

(Nikolenko lives in Amherst, N.H.)


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