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Economic amnesty sends positive signal to business

June 24, 2013, 16:24 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 24 (Itar-Tass) - The business community believes that the amnesty for economic crimes supported by the Russian president is a step in the right direction and a good signal for entrepreneurs, although it works selectively and embraces fewer people than expected. However, there are many critics of the document.

Vladimir Putin at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday backed the refined amnesty bill and recommended the State Duma, which is empowered to announce amnesty in Russia, to approve it before a summer break. He said the amnesty will work selectively.

“Under the bill the amnesty will cover first-time offenders, who committed business-related crimes, and, who has already compensated for the damage thus inflicted or agrees to do so. These citizens will be released under this amnesty,” Putin said.

The bill was drastically amended, excluding an opportunity to be a step close to freedom for those prisoners, who committed really grave crimes against the state, person or property - raiders or false coiners and counterfeiters and all those who cheated people of flats.

The new provisions significantly reduced the number of economic prisoners, who could be covered by the amnesty. Initially, as Putin’s business ombudsman Boris Titov proposed, the amnesty was to free over 100,000 people charged with economic crimes, who have a suspended sentence or an outstanding conviction, and 13,000 people serving their prison term. However, following Putin’s remarks the list of articles to be considered for granting amnesty was decreased from 53 to 30. Boris Titov said now approximately 10,000 economic prisoners can be released.

Business Russia Vice President Andrei Nazarov, who takes part in the bill drafting, expressed the hope that from 5,000 to 6,000 people can be freed under the amnesty.

Nevertheless, Titov expressed satisfaction. “I am satisfied with the project,” he said. “Every person who will be freed means a victory. Initially, we proposed a broader variant, but anyway I am grateful to the authorities that they had taken such an unpopular decision. This is a serious step towards protection of business.”

The economic amnesty does not require offenders to plead guilty. “But there is a requirement demanding compensation of damage pronounced by the court - civil or criminal,” Titov said. “Therefore if an entrepreneur agrees to pay for damage, he will be freed.”

The business ombudsman expressed an opinion that those entrepreneurs, who have not yet been sentenced, will hail the upcoming amnesty. “Today we have dozens of thousands of pending criminal cases against entrepreneurs,” Titov said. “They cannot normally do their business, they constantly fear their business will be shut down, they are regularly interrogated, but nobody has proved their guilt yet.”

Initially, the amnesty bill envisioned less tough conditions for release. There were plans to free entrepreneurs irrespective of their record of convictions. Thus, the amnesty would have covered YUKOS ex-chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev, who were convicted twice.

Titov left the question open whether Khodorkovsky and Lebedev will be freed under this amnesty. He said he did not rule out that the bill’s wording should be thoroughly studied by lawyers, while he is not a lawyer himself.

However, many experts, including lawyers of those convicted, expressed confidence that the high-profile prisoners will not be embraced by the amnesty, as they refuse to compensate for the damage upheld in courts’ decision, and have repeated convictions.

Some experts consider the amnesty bill “half-baked” and controversial. First of all, they expressed bewilderment over the need for damage compensation. However, there are quite a number of those who consider the amnesty a step in the right direction.

A Public Chamber member, lawyer Genri Reznik in an interview with the Kommersant business daily noted that the Criminal Code envisages no such punishment as “damage compensation.” The Criminal Codes imposes fines or prison terms for crimes. Under the Civil Code, damage should be compensated, if persons affected win this compensation through court.

“There should not be any damage compensations” among conditions for granting the amnesty, former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin was quoted by the business daily as saying.

“The amnesty means: we find a person guilty, but pardon him/her and therefore set free,” said Vladislav Korochkin, first vice president at Opora Russia business association. He noted that it was unclear how from technical and legal points of view this precondition could be met. It turns out that a person can hope for being pardoned only if he/she “files an application agreeing to compensate for damage.”

Putin’s decision is not enough, Civil Platform leader Mikhail Prokhorov was cited by Forbes as saying. Business people who found themselves imprisoned under far-fetched charges should have the right after release to seek justice through courts and return their property, the billionaire said.

“Positive effect will be insignificant,” chief economist at Otkrytie Financial Corporation, Vladimir Tikhomirov, was quoted by as saying. “Release of such prisoners as the YUKOS ex-chief would give a serious impetus for investors, not only domestic, but also foreign ones.”

The chairman of MDM Bank Board of Directors, Oleg Vyugin, said, “This is at least something.” He believes that the situation with economic crimes is very difficult and “this is already good” that some decisions are being taken in this sphere.

Many business people were sentenced unlawfully and the fact that such a decision had been taken, undoubtedly, sent a good signal, former telecommunications minister, Angstrem Group chief Leonid Reiman was quoted by Forbes as saying.