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MOSCOW, May 28 (Itar-Tass) - The idea of an economic amnesty is struggling its way forward slowly but surely. The bill is supported by the authorities (although with some reservations) but, as opinion polls indicate, it has very little support from the population of the country. Seventy three percent of Russians are certain that there are no honest ways of getting rich. Yet the economic amnesty may be declared in December. The question is how many convicts it will be applied to.
There is no consensus in society over the idea of amnestying those convicted of economic crimes. As VTSIOM sociologists have found out, 33% agree with this idea, 36% are against, and 31% are undecided. In 70% of cases Russians are against freeing convicted businessmen, because they are certain that “the thief belongs in a jail” and the culprits must be properly punished.
Those who support the idea of an amnesty first and foremost point to a large share of those innocently convicted (23%). In the opinion of 13% of the polled the convicted businessmen have already expiated their guilt. And 12% believe that it is inexpedient to keep in jail those businessmen whose actions did not harm anyone physically.
The very term businessman is commonly referred to big businesses, which have earned a negative attitude of the public at large, and not with small business people, who “do not get millions” and for that reason “are not regarded as socially remote,” the daily Kommersant quotes Levada Center’s Deputy Director Alexey Grazhdankin as saying.
When Levada Center sociologists tried to find out the people’s attitude to the statement “In Russia there have emerged people who legally make millions,” it has turned out that a tiny 13% have nothing against. Another 28% are not against good legal earnings, but on the condition “the money is earned honestly.” A majority has a very negative attitude to the “millionaires.” For instance, 48% of the respondents are against “because there is no honest way of making such money,” and 8% is against “even if the money is hard-earned.”
In the meantime, if the executive authorities are to be believed, they are not against the idea of such an amnesty.
“An amnesty is quite possible, although it may not be very popular with the man in the street,” President Dmitry Medvedev said last April about the possibility of a wholesale pardon for businessmen. “But in principle it is worth being considered as a sort of message. We should appeal to the State Duma, because it is the parliament’s prerogative, and not the president’s to declare an amnesty.”
Although the State Duma invariably dismissed such proposals over the past few years, the initiative has come from an office created during Putin’s third term - that of the businessmen’s rights ombudsman, Boris Titov. He suggested declaring an amnesty on the occasion of Bussinessman’s Day, marked on May 26.
Last week Putin described the bill as “half-baked,” because, in his opinion, those convicted of economic offenses included counterfeiters and those who exported dual purpose products. He called for making a balanced decision after a discussion with experts and the Prosecutor-General’s Office.
The main points of disagreement are what articles of the Criminal Code the amnesty should apply to, and also how many convicts it will cover.
Originally, the authors of the proposal, Boris Titov, and presidential representative in courts, Mikhail Barshchevsky, raised the theme of setting free 110,924 people jailed for economic crimes. Pretty soon there followed an explanation to the effect only 12,000 are actually serving prison terms at penitentiaries. The others were given suspended sentences or alternative punishments. This group may hope for their conviction to be canceled and for being exonerated at once.
The original idea was the amnesty would apply to 53 corpora delicti, including fraud, embezzlement and proprietary damage by deceit.
“It is easy to guess that the conviction statistics create not the best investment climate of all and by no means encourages people to launch businesses of their own,” Barshchevsky said. “Private enterprise is not just a means to make oneself rich. It implies taxes and the creation of jobs.”
As the daily Vedomosti says, the Russian leadership has not given up the idea of amnestying businessmen. It may be timed for the 20th anniversary of the Constitution after certain groups of convicts have been excluded from the list. In the wake of the president’s criticism the amnesty may be denied to those responsible for bank card fraud, criminal export of dual purpose products and counterfeiting).
This week consultations will begin between Boris Titov’s representatives and the Presidential State-Legal Directorate for drafting an amnesty for the economic crimes of the Criminal Code for businessmen, the co-chairman of the Business Against Corruption center, Andrei Nazarov, told the daily. He explained there was a proposal for stating in the amnesty bill that it applies to businessmen and hired employees who had committed crimes in connection with their professional activity.
“We do hope the State Duma will make a decision next autumn. In the near future we shall gather a meeting of the council of experts and determine a list of articles for the amnesty,” Titov said, adding that the list would mostly undergo reduction.
“We shall be inventorying and reducing the number of articles the amnesty bill would cover, because society is unprepared to accept most of these issues. This is the task Putin has set to us,” he said.
Amnesty is crucial, but it must be well-prepared. Those whom the president mentioned should be excluded. So it is too early to speculate how many people the measure will concern, a source in the presidential staff said.
In his opinion, the ombudsman was too much in a hurry to make the proposal by Businessman’s Day, but only if the project is formulated properly, it would be possible to time the amnesty for the 20th anniversary of the Constitution.