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Proposals again made in Russia to declare amnesty for economic crimes

April 12, 2013, 17:28 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Calls for declaring an amnesty for the businessmen sentenced to jail terms for economic crimes are again heard in Russia. The attempts to effectuate an amnesty of this kind have so far had a zero effect.

Mikhail Barshchevsky, a man representing the Russian government at the highest judiciary agencies has submitted a concept of the amnesty to Boris Titov, a presidential ombudsman for human rights. The document envisions the release from jails of all the businessmen who are serving terms on charges referring to offenses in the economic sphere.

At present, some 110,000 convicts charged with offenses in this category are serving jail terms in Russia.

Proposals to declare an amnesty for economic offenses have been made in the past by a number of officials, including Dmitry Medvedev when he occupied the presidential office, as well as by the MPs representing the United Russia party, and by members of the Coordination Council of the off-parliament opposition forces.

Experts admit that the task is far from simple, since such initiatives run counter to the moods existing in society.

Proposals recommend a sweeping amnesty for a broad spectrum of convicts in December 2013 in connection with an upcoming 20th anniversary of Russia’s Constitution, said Mikhail Barshchevsky, who is simultaneously chairman of the Council for Protection the rights of businessmen.

The idea was also taken up at an open session of the Council. The presidential federal ombudsman for the business community’s rights, Boris Titov attended the meeting.

Barshchevsky told Kommersant Daily that taking part in the efforts to draft the concept of amnesty involve Tamara Morshchakova, a retired arbiter of the Constitution Court, Yelena Novikova, the director of the Center for Legislative and Economic Research, Andrei Nazarov, a vice president of the Business Russia association, and Vladimir Radchenko, a former deputy chairman of Russia’s Supreme Court.

The experts are contemplating a broad amnesty for the convicts of various categories in addition to business people but the proposals that the ombudsman Titov was familiarized only with the section of their recommendations that deal precisely with entrepreneurial activities.

Members of the expert community feel confident there are more than enough grounds for amnestying the ‘economic convicts’ - they claim that unlawful persecution of and red-tape pressure on the business sphere have turned into routine features of Russian life.

It is an open secret that all - or virtually all - raids for the purpose of forcible takeover of properties are carried out in Russia with the involvement of law enforcement and/or judiciary agencies, Barshchevsky said.

The data cited at the session of the expert council indicates that one businessman in six in this country has been subjected to a criminal investigation and the practice has resulted in an elimination of no less than 2 million jobs.

Over the past three years alone, about 600,000 businessmen have been brought to criminal responsibility and 110,924 have been sentenced to prison terms.

The risks of clashes with the agencies of law and order aggravate the business climate which is already far from ideal. Along with this, many businessmen have been have been stood trial although they did not do anything wrong to third parties.

Legislation has changed noticeably in the course of years, however, and new criminal cases of this sort are not possible now but businessmen still continue serving the jail terms.

Authors of the concept propose “to free from punishment” and “to revoke the court sentences” of all the business people who have found themselves in jail for economic offenses, as well as to stop the prosecution of cases of the businessmen who are currently on remand. It is believed that the amnesty may embrace about 110,000 people, including the 12,000 ones who are serving jail terms.

The expert council proposes to release the convicted businessmen from jails and, on top of that, to relieve them of supplementary types of punishment (for instance, of the prohibitions to engage in certain types of activity) and to remove their convictions from official records.

Besides, the authors of the concept propose to cancel the criminal cases of the individuals who are on remand or standing trial but have not been sentenced yet.

The expert community believes that, simultaneously with the amnesty, work should continue towards changing the investigations-related policy towards the business sphere. In part, they say that jail terms can be substituted for by reasonable fines.

Economic penal sanctions should be issued under all the clauses on economic offenses, the experts say unanimously.

The problem of amnestying the people convicted under ‘economic’ clauses was raised on many occasions when Dmitry Medvedev occupied the post of President, as well as by the MPs representing the parliamentary majority.

More than 40 United Russia MPs submitted a draft resolution to the State Duma in the summer of 2010 proposing an amnesty that would embrace about 330,000 persons, all of them sentenced under the ‘economic’ clauses, but practically the next day an alternative bill signed by a Duma committee chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov was submitted to the house.

It spoke of only about a hundred convicts who were veterans of World War II and whom the author proposed to set free by the VE-Day. Recommendations on a broad amnesty were blocked by the presidential Administration then.

In May 2011, a Duma committee put brake on a similar idea put forward by the parliamentary opposition. A Just Russia party and the Liberal Democratic Party /LDPR/ suggested then that the Duma should declare an amassed amnesty of the convicts serving ‘economic’ sentences and time the action for the 20th anniversary since the international recognition of the Russian Federation.

Under that bill, freedom was to be given to 14,500 individuals.

President Medvedev said in the summer of 2011 an amnesty of people serving ‘economic’ terms was possible and the United Russia MPs started drafting an appropriate document but the whole story ended in nothing.

Medvedev took up the issue again at the beginning of 2012, shortly before the expiry of his term of office, and proposed the MPs to examine a possibility of the amnesty.

To cut the long story short, Russia saw the previous amnesty in 2010 and a total of 63 convicts, all of them war veterans, were freed. Prior to that, an amnesty was held in 2000.

Analysts say the main obstacle in the way of the initiative is the derogatory treatment of the problem by the rank-and-file and, generally speaking, the people’s dislike of businessmen as such.

Boris Titov admitted at the session that the authorities “will have to contend with the tide in the process of implementing this task,” as a strongly acerbic attitude towards entrepreneurial activities has taken firm route in society. “A broad public discussion in this sphere is needed so that people would get convinced of a necessity of this step,” he said.

For truth’s sake, Dmitry Medvedev, too, said earlier that “an amnesty is a thing quite possible but highly unpopular in the masses of people.”