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Anti-corruption campaign in Russia gaining momentum, people skeptical

June 10, 2013, 16:31 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 10 (Itar-Tass) - Anti-corruption campaign in Russia is gaining momentum as President Vladimir Putin signed another anti-corruption decree in a bid to wash the authorities from those who are trying to withhold their income sources and fraudulent gains. Along with it, a bill has been submitted to the State Duma lower parliament house that introduces a notion of a “corruption crime” and envisages prison terms of up to 15 years for such crimes.

Experts however say that the anti-corruption policy is unlikely to be dramatically transfigured, since its key problem lies not in the laws and in their practice.

Whereas the list of those who are obliged to declare their foreign property used to include top-ranking officials and officers of state-run corporations, now it will be extended to include contenders for elective positions - up to the president.

Under a recent Putin’s decree, On the Verification of Data about Property and Capital Commitments outside Russia, foreign property declarations of candidates for elective positions in federal and regional authorities and in local self-government will be subject to checks. The decree is applicable to the president, members of the Russian State Duma (parliament), governors, heads of municipalities and townships, and to their spouses and minors.

Such checks could be initiated by Russian law enforcers, political parties, the mass media and other organizations - by anyone who finds a candidate’s declaration suspicious or incomplete. Regular citizens however will not have a right to initiate such checks.

Notably, the new decree says such information could be received from abroad as well. The document however does not specify the mechanism to do that. It only says that foreign organizations will be able to signal about their mala fide Russian depositors. But in case they do not do this it is utterly unclear how to get this kind of information from a foreign bank if a check is initiated by somebody else.

In the mean time, lawmakers from the ruling party keep on offering their own anti-corruption initiatives. Thus, a United Russia lawmaker, chairperson of the State Duma security and anti-corruption committee Irina Yarovaya submitted a rather radical bill to the lower parliament house. She proposed to make a register of corruption crimes. Under her bill, the Russian Criminal Code is to be supplemented with the notion of corruption crime and the list of such crimes made up of 46 crime components from various Criminal Coder articles.

Under the current edition of the Criminal Code, corruption deeds are punishable on charges of fraud, office abuse or bribe-taking. These charges carry a prison term of not more than ten years.

“There are 46 crime components that this or that way carry responsibility for crimes that as a matter of fact can be classified as corruption. I suggest a common unified notion, that of corruption crime, be introduced,” the RBC daily cites Yarovaya.

Yarovaya proposes to supplement the Criminal Code with an article of “embezzlement of budgetary funds, monies from state off-budget funds and financial assets of state-run companies and corporations.” Such crimes, regardless of how they are committed, are to be punished by prison term of up to seven years and a fine of up to 500,000 roubles. Large-scale embezzlement, according to Yarovaya, is to be punished by prison terms for eight to 15 years and fines of from three to five million roubles.

But the most dragon measures will be applicable to state servants suspected of misappropriation of budgetary funds. Yarovaya proposes to check expenditures of such officials, their spouses and minors over three previous years. Expensive purchases that go beyond his or her official incomes, according to Yarovaya, are to be expropriated in favor of the state.

The Kommersant newspaper cites head of Russia’s National Anti-corruption Committee Kirill Kabanov as saying, these amendments stem from the anti-corruption liabilities within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The whole thing, in his word, could have been done in a much easier way - simply through ratification of article 20 of the United National Convention against Corruption. “But our elite labels it as anti-constitutional, since it violates presumption of innocence,” he said. “So, they have invented this complicated mechanism and it is absolutely unclear how it would function.”

“Supplementing the Criminal Code with a new crime component is a populist measure that is unlikely to bring about any actual result,” said Sergei Varlamov, a partner of the company Nalogovik. “The Criminal Code is complied is such a mode that any official can be brought to responsibility for budgetary funds embezzlement or bribe extortion.”

However, he admitted that such punishment as confiscation of luxury items purchased from sources other than the legal salary provokes some interest, since Russian laws have never had such a norm before.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Yemelyanov, a deputy leader of the A Just Russia faction in the State Duma, has called Yarovaya’s initiative as being just for show. “Any further toughening of punishment is senseless unless it can be evaded,” the Nezavisimaya Gazeta cites him as saying. He also referred to the cases around the former defence minister - enough for people not to believe that any anti-corruption fight is ever conducted. According to Yemelyanov, regular public opinion polls demonstrate general public attitudes towards corruption as a most pressing problem of the country.

Thus, according to a recent poll conducted by the Public Opinion foundation, a third of Russians say there is no way getting the upper hand of corruption. Thirty percent of the polled said they saw real progress in the anti-corruption fight, and about the same number of respondents said they saw no progress at all. Some 39 percent did not answer this question.