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Lawmakers seek to ban officials from having bank accounts and real estate abroad

August 02, 2012, 13:05 UTC+3
The violators will be fined five to ten million roubles or jailed for up to five years
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MOSCOW, August 2 (Itar-Tass) — The lawmakers of all the four factions at the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament submitted a bill banning civil servants from having real estate abroad or opening accounts at foreign banks. The violators will be fined five to ten million roubles or jailed for up to five years. It is unclear though who will control the implementation of the law. 

Russian officials and parliamentarians should have no property, securities or bank accounts abroad, the Kommersant writes. The relevant ban was proposed by a group of lawmakers from United Russia, the Communist Party /KPRF/, A Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party /LDPR/. In their opinion, government and municipal officials /including the president, the prime minister and ministers and legislators at all levels/ should not have accounts at foreign banks or own real estate and security abroad. The ban should apply to the spouses of the civil servants and their underage children. Violation of the ban is punishable by a five to ten-million-rouble fine or up to five years in prison with subsequent loss of right to have a government job for three years. If the parliament approves the law, it will come into effect on January 1, 2013. All those to whom it will apply are given six months to take measures to close their accounts and alienate the property."

Experts explain the lawmakers' activity with the authorities' wish to soften the society's resentment caused by the quickly-approved amendments to the legislation on rallies and non-government organizations, the newspaper writes. Vice president of the Center for Political Technologies Alexei Makarkin, cited by the newspaper, thinks that the bill is "an answer to people's resentment at a series of crucial laws which have been approved lightning-fast recently. The authorities' move would imply that "we not only restrict citizens, but also ourselves." The political scientist is sure that there will be loopholes in the new legislation: "You cannot register /property/ to the underage? Fine, they'll register it to persons of age; the civil servants have plenty of them." Head of the National Anticorruption Committee Kirill Kabanov believes that the bill is "ideologically correct, but that it has "lines of retreat." The reason behind the lawmakers' activity is Russia's having to report in September on the fight against corruption to the international community, including the G-20 states.

"The lawmakers' intentions might be called quite useful had they been timely," experts of the Guild of Parliamentary Journalists Prokhor Selivanov told the Novye Izvestia, "in this case, the initiative of Russian lawmakers looks like a poorly disguised response to the Magnitsky list." Lawyers also drew attention to the fact that it would be quite easy to circumvent the law. Even a cursory review of the document finds several loopholes. For example, it contains a provision saying that in case an official or member of his family needs a course of treatment abroad, he may open a bank account at a foreign country to pay for accommodation and treatment.

The Vedomosti reckons that more than 100 families of officials and lawmakers, judging by their income declarations, have property abroad /apartments, houses and land/ in more than 20 countries the world over /not counting Baltic and CIS states/.

The newspaper reminds that a lawbill was submitted to the State Duma on July 26 proposing criminal responsibility for officials and legislators for unauthentic and untimely property and income declaration. Its authors are deputy house speaker from the United Russia Party Sergei Zheleznyak and A Just Russia faction member Ilya Ponomaryov. The maximum penalty for violators is a five-million-rouble fine or 480 hours of community work.

"It might be said we're proposing therapy, while our colleagues /are proposing/ surgery," Zheleznyak said, "in my opinion, the new initiative needs a thorough legal working-through, because it concerns restrictions of rights. For example, it gives half a year to sell property /abroad/, but one might fail to sell in crisis. Another issue is that of the consequences of the new ban. Whereas our initiative is aimed at greater openness and withdrawal of foreign assets from the shadow, a ban might provoke the criminalization of this sphere."

Both rival initiatives, more or less tough, are viable, a Kremlin official said; the lawmakers will consider the issue in the beginning of the session. The Kremlin regards the initiatives as a signal from the society urging the authorities to combat corruption more vigorously.

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