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Controversial bill over joint responsibility for corruption on table in State Duma

November 12, 2013, 19:33 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, November 12 (Itar-Tass) - The outrageous case of huge embezzlement in the Russian Defence Ministry, the so-called Oboronservis Affair, took a new twist Tuesday. A week earlier it encouraged the State Duma to consider the idea of establishing some responsibility for the relatives and friends of participants in corruption schemes.

According to the Russian Investigative Committee, another suspect in stealing military property during Anatoly Serdyukov’s term as Russia's defence minister, former director-general of the OOO Mira limited liability company, Dinara Bilyalova, has concluded a pre-trial cooperation agreement with the investigators. She has testified against a friend of hers, former head of the Defence Ministry's Department of Property Relations, Yevgeniya Vasilieva, charged with multi-billion-rouble fraud.

Testimonies by Bilyalova, who acted as a mediator in the fraudulent transactions, and by other witnesses, helped the investigators bring charges against Vasilieva, an alleged lover of the former Defence Minister Serdyukov, who remains a witness in this case.

The damage from embezzlement totals about 8 billion roubles.

The fact that the suspects were on friendly and even intimate terms prompted legislators to consider a bill that might establish joint responsibility of close and distant relatives and even friends and acquaintances of convicts for damage inflicted on the state and society. This will require evidence that the money, property and other valuables had been acquired in an untransparent way. It is common knowledge that many bribers and embezzlers use relatives as a legal cover-up for their actions, registering them as owners of the stolen property.

“It does not take reinventing the wheel to fight corruption,” the president of the non-governmental National Anti-Corruption Committee, member of Russia's Human Rights Council Kirill Kabanov told Itar-Tass about the bill. He participated in the examination of the proposed legal act before its presentation in the State Duma.

The expert believes the document is based on the right idea - returning the illegally acquired properties to the state and restoring social justice.

“But what does joint responsibility of the briber’s close acquiantances mean? Who are these ‘close’ people? Does it mean ‘lovers’? The law does allow for such loose of interpretation,” Kabanov believes.

He added that the lawmakers should first of all add the term ‘unjust enrichment’ to the Criminal Code - a norm successfully applied in many countries. In Italy the rule obliging suspected corruptioners to prove the transparency of incomes and outlays helped deal with the mafia.

Kabanov reckons the proposal to institute joint responsibility may lead to abuse of power by law enforcement authorities, because beneficiaries would be able to bribe investigators.

“If a Bentley is registered in the name of an elderly woman, say, a veteran of WWII, but it is her grandson who uses the luxury car, investigators should find evidence he is the direct beneficiary, and not charge the grandmother, thus violating her constitutional rights,” the expert explained.

“If the bill is adopted, the law will not be effective anyway as this theorem is unprovable,” he said in conclusion.

At the Anti-Corruption Council's meeting in late October Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted some telling statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: only 29,500 cases of bribery were revealed in the first six months of 2013 against 34,000 a year earlier. Putin instructed the prosecutor-general to check the statistics and find out the reasons for this trend.