My Guide to Dealing With Corrupt Cops and Bribery While Traveling – Part 1

This is a topic that comes up a lot when people as about my experience in The Mongol Rally and also in India and even a couple times in Western Europe.   Hell, I know a guy that bribed his way out of a giant overweight baggage fee in the Russian airport.  Sometimes there are aspects of a society that are so ingrained in that culture but so foreign and terrifying to our own.  I’d like to discuss my experiences and suggestions to these situations by telling my stories and my logic behind my choices.  I’ll also preface by saying the photos of the incidents(in this part) are limited because we only started to push our luck with cameras after we lost all sense of sanity…

So to begin, lets discuss police.  When I was at the border between Turkey and Georgia I had my first bribery experience.  I was a bit nervous as I was alone in the car while my travel compatriots had to go through the walking line.  He was in charge of checking my documents and searching my car.  As he was looking in my passport he was a making the universal “thumb and middle finger rubbing” sign that transcends all language barriers.

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As you can kind of see here, repacking the vehicles was not ideal…

I had somewhat mentally prepared for this, but it still always comes down to a choice.  In this case there is a certain power they hold and can be viewed as a bit of an “exchange” in a way.  I could act confused or on principal and I would likely still get through the border but who knows how long it would take and what would be confiscated for whatever reason.  I can see people sitting on the pavement next to possessions thrown about with no sign of moving anytime soon.  I had already been in this line close to eight hours and it was within their power to keep me there overnight.  I weighed the options and slipped my leftover Turkish money into my passport and handed it back to him.  The amount totaled roughly 15 USD.  He took it, walked to a coworker, smiled, casually popped open my trunk and laughed at the porcelain goat we purchased, closed it, and waved me on.  I got through the checkpoint 45 minutes faster than my teammates walking through with no vehicle.  It’s always a risk/reward assessment in these situations but I can always fall back on the ignorant foreigner card if need be.

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The line at the Turkey/Georgia border

Now for the next experience, or more like series of encounters.  This was when I was building my callouses so to speak.  In Azerbaijan they specifically target cars with foreigners in them, and are cars definitely stood out.  We were warned about this country from the start with a lot of advice given and I didn’t hear of a team that went through this country without some amount of attempted extortion.  For us?  We were pulled over roughly 6 times during a 200km drive.

The procedure is roughly the same each time, you get out of the car and usually they put you in the back seat of their police cruiser(likely to scare you) and start filling out a form.  They will also attempt to take your drivers license and not give it back until this is over.  Sometime during the filling out of the form one of the police will say the fine for whatever your infraction is is roughly 200USD or whatever amount and, in my case in my first pullover, this is where I hit my decision point again.

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Caravan buddy going through the motions in the police car

My teammates were in our vehicle as they only want to talk with the driver and likely separating us is meant to add to my stress.  They had some fake documents of mine that meant nothing to me but I told them it was my license.  That was by design so that they don’t have anything of actual value, I think it was a hotel receipt printout or something.  Now, as this was my first time, I was very nervous but the advice I was given was to just not pay.  I’d like to say it was a conscious choice but in reality I didn’t have any money on me anyway due to a solid drunk night in Georgia.

So began the back and forth of me acting confused, saying “no no no I don’t have” and them writing continually decreasing amounts of money on the paper.  After maybe 20 minutes of this, they just…let me go…

It was almost as if I had actually done nothing wrong.

A weight was lifted and from then on I was gifted with the revelation that, as long as I actually drive well, I’m basically non-extortable(is that a word?) if I have the patience.  For the question of “Why couldn’t they just arrest me?” Well it’s an answer with multiple responses.  First, and most likely, at the time Azerbaijan was trying to have an image of more transparency after a longtime reputation for corruption.  So much so that bringing in foreigners for “speeding” is likely not going to help that image especially when, at most, they pull down a couple hundred bucks. 2nd, there’s likely easier prey around.  Why waste more time when there’s likely plenty more foreigners to pull over?  Really, in the end, it doesn’t matter.  It becomes a game of patience, and we had camping equipment.

Now this has gone on for a bit so I’ll split it into a 2nd part for when we have essentially lost all shame when dealing with the corrupt cops and and the 2nd story where the unexpected occurred and the cops just loved us…

Here’s a teaser photo…as I promise that part will have more photos…

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I’m lady Batman, officer

 

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