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Russia’s Internet surfers have invented a new game to amuse themselves – Find the Legislators’ Property. Hundreds of social network users are checking the declarations of State Duma and Federation Council members in order to unearth some traces of law-makers undeclared assets.
In the meantime, more members of both houses of the Federal Assembly have quit their seats. Experts are wondering what purposes the authorities pursued when they triggered this campaign.
Hundreds of bloggers around the world, first and foremost, in Russia are scrutinizing the declarations of Russian legislators, including those affiliated with the ruling party. Ever more of these have to hand in their mandates. The other day Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvieneko confirmed that some senators with bank accounts outside Russia were considering the possibility of vacating their seats in the upper house.
On Thursday the news arrived the Voronezh Region’s senator Nikolai Olshansky was leaving the Federation Council of his own accord. The 73-year-old legislator declared he was retiring for health reasons, adding that currently he was in hospital. He asked the media to refrain from linking his decision with “the current massive resignations of deputies.”
“There is no reason for my resignation other than my old age and health,” he said.
However, Olshansky is not just an FC member, but a millionaire and number 132 on the list of Russia’s wealthiest people. His property is estimated at 750 million dollars.
Another wealthy legislator, 60-year-old multi-millionaire Anatoly Lomakin, has explained his decision to quit by the intention to take a course of medical treatment. Just as Olshansky, he features on the Forbes list of Russia’s richest of the rich. Businessman Vasily Tolstopyatov left without offering no explanations at all. The head of the State Duma’s committee for ethics, Vladimir Pekhtin, whom bloggers have accused of owning undeclared properties in Miami nearly three million dollars worth, said he was leaving for the sake of saving the prestige of United Russia, in which he is holding a senior post.
Bloggers, inspired by their colleague nicknamed Doctor Z, who found compromising evidence against Pekhtin, are continuing the quest. As oppositional activist, A Just Russia member Ilya Ponomaryov, told the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta that in two weeks’ time he will publish in his blog a list of two or three dozen Federation Council members with undeclared properties abroad.
“There is so much evidence we have no time to process it properly. Our people keep digging. In the United States and in Europe. The Federation Council is a club of wealthy people. About 20-30 senators have problems with properties or businesses. I will not disclose any names at this point. But as soon as the evidence has been collected and formalized legally, we shall make the names public.”
Former State Duma member Gennady Gudkov has told the daily that next there will appear in the world web some not very pleasant information concerning presidential staff officials.
“I have seen some of the materials the bloggers have discovered. They have been studying these structures for a while. There will be ever more candidates for being put on the Magnitsky list.”
Bloggers keep digging everywhere. One Andrei Malgin has spotted an undeclared luxury condominium in Miami belonging to State Duma member, once Soviet ice hockey great Vladislav Tretyak. Ilya Ponomaryov has found an undeclared hotel for pilgrims in Germany belonging to the wife of Andrei Isayev, the head of the labor and social policies committee.
Multibillionaire Nikolai Bortsov, of the United Russia party (also present on the Forbes list), has told the on-line publication Slon.ru “they have begun to wipe boots with us,” and “as far as I know, many will be leaving the State Duma.”
In the meantime, Russian legislation establishes no clear responsibility for those Russian legislators who abuse property declaration rules.
It is quite obvious that the current strategy is aimed at ousting big business tycoons from the bodies of power, says the director of the International Institute of Political Expertise, Yevgeny Minchenko, quoted by the daily Novyie Izvestia. In his opinion, the campaign will last a while to greatly affect the composition of the next parliament. According to Minchenko’s estimates, now billionaires and millionaires account for about a third of the Federation Council and for nearly half of the State Duma.
The world web has been opening ever more mysteries to the public at large and even Vladimir Putin himself does not know what this campaign is all about, says the head of the Effective Policy foundation, Gleb Pavlovsky. “He is using the tactic of careful improvisations,” Pavlovsky believes. In his opinion Putin is in no hurry to follow the advice of those who have been urging him to fight to achieve the logical outcome. “It is quite obvious that he is unprepared. Putin has been changing the rules of the game cautiously. But, because he has no alternative rules yet, he has been merely expanding the zone of risks for his entourage, mostly, for the establishment.”
The lower and upper house members who have been leaving parliament are not major political figures. At the same time, Pavlovsky said, this process allows for keeping the elites in a state of uncertainty, in which their dependence on Putin soars.
“Formally, there is an answer – abide by the law,” he said.