Kremlin rejects bill on amnesty for economic crimes

Vladimir Putin has
rejected a “draft” of the parliamentary bill on amnesty for economic offenses. Authorities
fear that genuine crooks and thieves might get out of jail under the pretext of
improving the investment climate.


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he reassumed the role of president one year ago, one of the central tasks that
Vladimir Putin set for himself was the significant improvement of the country’s
business climate.

This includes pumping Russia’s rating higher in the World
Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ index – from 120th place to 20th – within
five years. To achieve this (though quite apart from fixing the red tape
problems), the president is determined to create a structure that will protect
the interests of business leaders from meddling government officials.

Business Ombudsman Office was introduced less than a year ago, when the head of
“Business Russia,” Boris Titov, was appointed to the office by Putin. In
early May 2013, the ombudsman requested that parliament grant pardons for
100,000 businessmen jailed under 50 categories of offense.

Titov believes these
pardons are needed, “to move on from a page of history, which was written in
the harsh period that followed perestroika.” The ombudsman’s opinion is that it
had been a period when businessmen became victims of unfair competition
struggles – as a result of which they often ended up in court.

khodorkovsky trial

initiative gained the support of members of the lower house of the Russian parliament,
and a draft resolution was prepared. The document was due to be discussed at a
meeting with the president, to be held in the city of Voronezh. Putin did not
give his support to the draft bill, saying that the draft was “too rough” and
insufficiently prepared.

To support these views, he claimed that, among those
imprisoned businessmen the bill refers to, there are individuals who had, for
example, organized the export of weapons-grade material. He therefore suggested
that the bill be redrafted with much clearer criteria.

Titov explained the head of state’s position: “The president has a choice.
According to officially-conducted opinion polls, 33 percent of Russians support
amnesty for businessmen, while 36 percent do not support it, and a further 31
percent declined to express an opinion. The president has to represent all
sections of society, so he must find an option that will satisfy the majority
of the population.”

are, however, independent experts who remain skeptical about the idea of
amnesty for economic crimes. Former Economy Minister Andrei Nechayev – a banker
these days – stated that the indiscriminate release of everyone convicted of
economic crimes would be a mistake. It could lead, for example, to the release
of corrupt government officials who frequently flouted the laws on economic
activities – and also to the release of actual crooks and thieves.


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general, Russia’s legislation on economic crimes is gradually softening. At the
Voronezh meeting, Andrei Nazarov (Commissioner for the Protection of Business
from Unlawful Prosecutions) said that, if those currently imprisoned had been
prosecuted under the new laws, a number of them would not have gone to jail,
since their offenses have now been decriminalized. Others would have received
considerably lighter sentences.

Delyagin, director of the Institute for Globalization Issues, is skeptical
about the effectiveness of amnesty. His feeling is that it would make sense if
the relationship of the ruling bureaucracy to business were changed in parallel.

On the one hand, there would be greater adherence to the law and a stronger
certainty that people would, in the future, only be called to account for actual
offenses. On the other hand, the meddling of governmental officials in business
matters would cease, along with the abuse of the taxation system used to
terrorize businesses.

“If they fail to do that, then any amnesty for
businessmen would be utterly pointless” said Delyagin.

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