MOSCOW – A Russian cardiologist said he feared dismissal and beating after phoning Vladimir Putin to say that an impressive hospital display for the premier was faked. And then, Putin called him back.
Ivan Khrenov told Putin during a live call-in show Thursday that his bosses instructed doctors and nurses to show fake pay slips and pose as recovering patients surrounded by new equipment during the premier's November visit to a hospital in the central town of Ivanovo.
Khrenov told Putin that the equipment was borrowed from other hospitals and the doctors were forced to say their salaries were about $1,000 a month — far less than their real income. Putin's visit to the hospital was nationally televised — just like the call-in show where Khrenov made his claims.
Putin, who has been hobnobbing with ordinary Russians in similar sessions for years, ordered an investigation into a possible embezzlement of the $4,3 million the hospital has received. "What are you cheering at?" Putin asked the applauding audience in the television studio. "The art of the (hospital) managers or doctor's bravery?"
If the embezzlement did happen, Khrenov told a Russian news agency Friday, he might face a beating or dismissal. "I will not be surprised if somebody meets me in a dark alley or I'll be forced to resign 'voluntarily,'" he told Interfax after regional officials called him "insane" and called him to a local prosecutor's office and health department for questioning.
But his problems seem to have ended after Putin personally called him, Khrenov told the RIA news agency.
Putin "said, 'We won't leave you in your trouble, we will help you, we know the whole situation, don't you worry,'" Khrenov was quoted as saying.
The populist premier likes to burnish his image as an indispensable leader to whom every citizen could turn personally for support. Kremlin critics have long claimed that the callers who usually ask non-confrontational questions and lavish the prime minister with praise are screened and coached.
Khrenov wrote a letter to Putin after his November visit to the hospital and said that the premier's assistants asked him to repeat his claim in a phone call during the call-in show, Interfax quoted him as saying.
In recent months, a string of medical officials has been charged with embezzlement over procurement of overpriced medical equipment.
A 2009 survey on corruption perceptions by Transparency International ranked Russia a lowly 146th out of 180 countries — falling between Kenya and Sierra Leone.