Putin backs white-collar crimes amnesty

Putin backs white-collar crimes amnesty

2013-07-02 18:06

Moscow - Russia's lower house of parliament on Tuesday passed a Kremlin-drafted bill that grants an amnesty to white-collar criminals in a bid to improve the country's frigid business climate.

The amnesty, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, covers individuals who have committed an economic crime for the first time.

But critics said the bill was extremely weak and would only affect a tiny minority of prosecuted businessmen.

Kremlin representative Garri Minkh presented the bill to the lawmakers, saying it would impact 1 299 ongoing criminal cases and 22 people who are currently in pre-trial jail.

Minkh said 340 people would be freed from jail due to the amnesty, according to the State Duma website.

Human rights groups have expressed concern that the measure is too limited because it would not cover some of the biggest Putin critics who have been jailed for disputed business crimes.

Putin said the new law would cover only those who committed business-related crimes for the first time and not apply to repeat offenders.

Boris Titov, a business ombudsman who backed the bill, expressed disappointment that the result was not a wider amnesty.

It will not affect Russia's jailed former oil tycoon and repeated Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky - now serving his second consecutive jail sentence for white-collar crimes he disputes.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, currently on trial for fraud in a timber deal, would also not benefit from the amnesty.

Khodorkovsky's attorney Vadim Klyuvgant said on June 22 that the bill was so weak that it looked like the government was only trying to score public relations points instead of actually changing the legislation.

The legislation is now expected to be comfortably passed by the Federation Council upper house of parliament before Putin signs it into law.