MOSCOW, September 7 (RIA Novosti)
Prosecutor-General’s Office Plans to Criminalize “Non-Cash Bribes”
Following Council of Europe recommendations, the Prosecutor-General’s Office intends to criminalize “non-cash bribes” – non-material benefits offered to officials.
In accordance with recommendations by the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), the Office is drafting amendments to the Criminal Code that will put non-material services and perks, whose market value is impossible to establish, on the same footing as bribes, Deputy Prosecutor-General Alexander Buksman said in an interview with ITAR-TASS.
He added that the Office is proposing to criminalize so-called “influence peddling” and increasing the statute of limitations for bribery.
Russian legislation does not fully reflect all cases of bribery, GRECO says in its March report on Russia’s implementation of the European Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. Aside from cash or material bribes, there are property-related benefits and services. Also, the Supreme Court recommends that the sentence specify the monetary value of the advantage gained.
Most of the experts interviewed by Vedomosti doubt that punishment for non-material advantages will have any effect in the Russian context. “The criminal legal norm must be definitive, otherwise it will only provoke corruption,” warns Viktoria Burkovskaya from Yegorov, Puginsky, Afanasyev and Partners. The use of non-material advantages should be prevented not so much by criminal punishment as by deliberate regulation of the official’s status and an analysis of how the restrictions are being observed, Burkovskaya argues.
Alexander Khinshtein, a Moskovsky Komsomolets columnist, fears that the proposed measures may be misinterpreted. If a non-material advantage is categorized as bribery, then it must be formulated to state that the given person has enjoyed a particular perk as a result and shown how that is detrimental to the interests of service.
Introducing an evaluating norm, especially under a strict article, is very dangerous, considering the level of trust in Russia’s judicial system, believes attorney Mikhail Barshchevsky. The GRECO recommendations are of a general nature and need not be borrowed wholesale, he notes.
Vladimir Yuzhakov, Director of the Institute for the Modernization of State and Municipal Administration, says that Russians have not yet learned to identify situations when the advantage implied is of a material character, let alone of a more subtle nature. But such bans must be adopted if we are serious about combating corruption. The burden of proof may become redundant – it could be enough merely to state the fact. After all, punishment need not be criminal – it could be some kind of disciplinary measure, Yuzhakov argues.
Russia is expected to report on the fulfillment of GRECO’s recommendations in September 2013. Among those not yet implemented is the absence in Russia of federal administrative courts where actions by the authorities could be appealed, and no criminal liability for legal entities.
Experts also point out that corruption cases are not given priority in courts and the list of persons enjoying immunity from prosecution is still too long. There are no additional articles on corruption which specify the confiscation of property as a punishment.
Russia and EU in Talks on Visa-Free Travel for Service Passport Holders
Moscow and Brussels are close to reaching a deal on visa-free travel for service passport holders (which are granted primarily to civil servants). This is the last obstacle to signing an agreement on a significant reduction in visa requirements between Russia and the EU. This issue will be the main topic of discussion at the EU-Russia meeting of interior and justice ministries’ officials in October in Cyprus. As a compromise, the parties may agree to abolish visas for holders of biometric service passports.
The EU-Russia dialogue on visa-free travel has been proceeding on two tracks, including negotiations on complete visa abolishment for mutual travel and discussions on easing existing visa requirements. The parties are expected to reach a breakthrough in the second track by finalizing the amendments to the 2006 agreement on simplified visa requirements between Russia and the EU.
The amended agreement will revoke visa requirements for commercial air and merchant marine crews, expand the list of those eligible for five-year multi-entry visas, and ease visa requirements for repeat travelers. So far, the agreement has been blocked by disagreements over visa-free travel for service passport holders. Moscow strongly insists on this, while Brussels opposes.
A source in the EU delegation told Kommersant that Brussels would prefer not to include service passport holders in the proposed agreement, as it is concerned that in Russia these kinds of passports are often issued to those not eligible to them. However, a source in the Russian delegation flatly denied this allegation, saying that the issue of service passports in Russia is under strict control.
Easing visa requirements for civil servants is not a priority for the EU. Brussels prefers simplifying travel requirements for students, academics, NGO representatives, journalists and businessmen, as they play a major role in promoting closer ties and breaking existing stereotypes between societies.
Moscow, however, views the amended agreement as a milestone on the road to the complete abolition of visas between Russia and EU. Brussels’ reluctance to abolish visas for service passport holders is interpreted in Moscow as a sign that EU is not keen on making further progress toward a visa-free regime with Russia.
In the run-up to the meeting in Cyprus, the parties have been discussing possible ways of compromise to break the deadlock over the issue. Specifically, Moscow has proposed the cancellation of visas for holders of service biometric passports and Brussels is willing to abolish visas for certain categories of service passport holders.
Russia hopes that Cyprus, which currently holds the EU presidency and is expecting to receive a 5 billion euro loan from Moscow, will help facilitate a breakthrough on the issue. If the October talks are successful, the agreement on simplifying the visa regime could be signed as early as December, at the EU-Russia summit in Brussels.
Russian Government to De-Monopolize Postal Services Market
The Russian government is planning a radical reform of the postal services market. The ban on the sale of shares of Russian Post may be lifted. Nationwide competitors will appear. The rates of express delivery companies such as DHL and UPS will not be regulated by the state, but they will have to obtain special licenses.
The draft law “On the Postal Service” is in final revision, and the final draft will be confirmed by September 15, the press service of the Ministry of Communications announced. Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov said the bill should be submitted to the State Duma for the fall session.
A draft of the document contains no direct ban on privatization of Russian Post, which exists under current law. The Communications Ministry’s press service confirmed the planned changes, adding that the requirement of the corporatization of Russian Post is contained in a government order from 2003 and a special working group will address the issue shortly.
Companies that provide postal services are required to be licensed, and only Russian Post has a federal license. The bill provides for two types of organizations on the postal services market: universal postal service and express mail service operators. The latter, having obtained a license, may provide all kinds of postal services (except sending simple written correspondence) in one or more regions, and will set their own prices for services. The bill imposes restrictions only on universal postal service operators; for example, services for all of Russia at a single rate. The Communications Ministry’s press service said that the law “will only set an upper limit of the rate.”
A source close to the Communications Ministry points out that “unequal competitive advantages are established between businesses.” Express mail service operators will certainly compete with Russian Post, but only in the express mail segment, the source said. Lost revenue is not a concern, since the share of express mail services in the revenue structure of Russian Post is negligible, he added.
The Finance Ministry noted that Russian Post is budgeted at approximately 3.5 billion rubles up until 2016. After 2016, the Finance Ministry will consider the cost of postage and make decisions “depending on the situation,” said a ministry spokesman. He noted that Russian Post’s major customers – the Pension Fund, the Federal Tax Service and the Interior Ministry, generate sizable revenue for the company.
The bill authorizes the creation of nationwide competitors to Russian Post given the availability of investors. The document itself is simple and straightforward and has been favorably received, said Russian Post Deputy Director General Igor Mandrykin. However, there are concerns, he added. If universal postal service will include services that are not currently applicable to it, such as sending parcels and postal money transfers, then Russian Post will have less opportunities for cross-subsidizing unprofitable services, he said.
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The main event of the third day of the 11th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi was the closing session with President Vladimir Putin. The atmosphere was calm and open, despite the current political tensions and the Russia-West confrontation. The Russian president said that it corresponded to the spirit of the Valdai Club.