Russia's business amnesty kicks off with a handful freed

MOSCOW (Reuters) – An amnesty for Russia’s jailed entrepreneurs, ordered by President Vladimir Putin, has begun with 13 people freed so far, the country’s business ombudsman said on Tuesday.

The amnesty was originally proposed by ombudsman Boris Titov last year and signed into law earlier in July as an attempt to correct failures in Russia’s legal system, which has often seen entrepreneurs jailed on trumped-up charges.

Titov, who was hired by Putin in 2012 to protect entrepreneurs’ rights, has said that more than 13,000 are locked up for economic crimes and has forecast that thousands should be freed under the amnesty.

“As of today, 13 people have been freed,” Titov said at a press briefing. “The first conclusion is that the amnesty has started to work.”

Titov said that of those 13, eight were freed from pre-trial detention centers and five from jail. He said that there had not yet been large numbers of prisoners released so far because people first need to receive information about repaying damages.

The amnesty applies to 27 crimes including credit fraud, fraud in the sphere of entrepreneurial activities and evading the repaying of debt.

It applies to those who have been convicted once and agree to repay damages – effectively ruling out former oil tycoon and a staunch Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted of fraud in 2005 and again in 2010.

The terms of the amnesty also do not include embezzlement – with which opposition leader Alexei Navalny was charged and sentenced for five years.

Some Russian lawmakers, who are not members of Putin’s ruling party, have proposed expanding the terms of the amnesty to include embezzlement and a wider definition of fraud – which could include Navalny if implemented.

Asked whether Navalny could fall under the amnesty, Titov said that it would be “legally difficult” for the amnesty to be applied to him, or Khodorkovsky.

“No particular individuals are a factor in adopting this decision (about the amnesty),” said Titov. “Neither Navalny or Khodorkovsky are an indicator of taking up this decision. The amnesty is a question of the system.”

(Reporting by Megan Davies; Editing by David Evans)

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