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MPs to check selling of embassies’ land plots abroad

February 18, 2013, 11:42 UTC+3

The State Duma deputies have begun bringing to order the state’s foreign property

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The State Duma deputies have begun bringing to order the state’s foreign property. According to the RBC daily Nikolai Kolomeitsev of the Communist Party suggested having a single registrar for state property abroad. The suggestion was supported by Head of the Accounting Chamber Sergei Stepashin. A similar experience is with the presidential office, which controls about thirty percent of the foreign property.

“We do need a registrar. Unfortunately, the process has delayed. Let us work together. Why not bring the issue to the parliamentary level,” Stepashin responded to the suggestion from Kolomeitsev during the hearings at the State Duma on Friday.

The deputy explained to the RBC daily that the problem had emerged long before, as after the collapse of the USSR very many land plots and properties of diplomatic purposes lost their status and ownership.

Some land plots were taken to the state jurisdiction in the countries where they were, and the other facilities are being rent for pennies. “This business brings fortunes. For example, we have information that in Tunisia the embassy’s land plot was sold for almost 100 dollars per ten hectares, which is on paper, and in reality people make deals and get quite a different cash,” Kolomeitsev said. The deputy has many facts of the kind, which he demands be checked.

The obstacle there is that there is not an authority to control the country’s foreign property. Presently, all foreign property is supervised by three bodies – the presidential office, the foreign ministry and the ministry of economic development. The foreign ministry controls all the buildings and land plots under the Vienna convention, which are of diplomatic statuses; they cannot be used for commercial purposes and may be used by diplomatic missions only. Assets of the ministry of economic development include mostly buildings of trade representations. Kolomeitsev is sure a registrar is necessary and it is important to check its effective use.

The presidential office has a registrar of the kind, the office’s Press Secretary Viktor Khrekov told the newspaper. “Our assets include about 1,000 facilities in 70 countries. Almost half of those assets are in friendly countries of Africa and in the former socialist republics; surely, quite many facilities are in the developed countries, like France, the US, and Japan,” he said. All the facilities have been registered, and repairing is done wherever it is required.

It is very complicated to use this “opulence” for commercial purposes. After the collapse of the USSR, all former republics signed a so-called zero option – Russia was undertaking all debts in exchange to exploitation of that foreign property. Ukraine only filed a note of protest and refused to have an agreement with Russia. The situation has not developed, and thus Russia may neither sell nor rent most of its property. In this situation, the presidential office offers its real estate property abroad to Russian citizens and organisations abroad. “Over past eleven years, we did not sell a single square metre of land or real estate,” Khrekov said.

The United Russia party also supported the idea expressed by Kolomeitsev. The State Duma’s Deputy Head of the foreign affairs committee Vyacheslav Nikonov agrees with the necessary control over foreign property, though he doubts the “theory” voiced by Kolomeitsev about facts, where embassy land plots had been sold for nothing.

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