Russia’s fraud and tax evasion laws have been reformed, following a decree signed by President Medvedev.
Primarily, the changes to the Criminal Code amend a series of articles on economic crimes. Namely, people who have committed an economic crime for the first time can now avoid a prison sentence – once they repay the damages they have committed, and a penalty of five times the damages.
The economic crimes in question involve petty crimes against property, illegal entrepreneurship, bankruptcy, tax evasion, and some types of fraud. Until now, all of these were punished by up to three years in prison.
There are, however, several restrictions as to how and when the amendments can be applied.
“The criminal code takes a broad view on fraud,” Vladimir Kitsing, a lawyer from the Knyazev and Partners company, told RT. “And although technically it has to do with economic endeavors, formally it belongs to the embezzlement chapter of the Criminal Code. That’s why even if someone accused of fraud has repaid the damage they’ve done, they can’t be freed from criminal prosecution.”
These amendments were inspired by the cases of lawyer Sergey Magnitsky and entrepreneur Vera Trifonova who died in pre-trial detention for economic crimes they are alleged to have committed.
The new version of the Criminal Code also introduces compulsory labor of up to five years as an alternative to prison time. That option would be applied to petty crimes, as well as moderately severe crimes committed for the first time.
Judges will also be allowed to lower the crime’s category, thus cutting the prison term and choosing another type of sentence. In some of the cases, criminals could even get the chance to avoid prison. For drug addicts, sentences could be postponed until they finish voluntarily treatment – for up to eight years.
There is also a major change in the treatment of verbal abuse. Slander, previously regarded as a criminal offense, will now be an administrative offense punished by fines rather than prison sentences. Violence against journalists or their relatives, meanwhile, will be considered criminal and could be punished with up to six years in prison.
The law will be retroactive, so offenders who have already been found guilty can hope for reconsideration of their cases.