Kremlin perplexed as top MP seeks repression of civil servants

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Sergei Mironov, the Federation Council speaker and the leader of the Fair Russia political party has suggested confiscating the property of bribe takers and their families, returning only what the convict’s relatives prove as legally acquired.

­The offer was made as Mironov was meeting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who is now holding a series of sessions with heads of parliamentary parties before delivering the government’s report to the State Duma. “I am talking about the confiscation of property from corrupt civil servants and their family members. And it should be done according to the following imperative – if a civil servant is caught on such an unseemly deed as bribery, all property must be confiscated and afterwards the relatives may prove that the property had been acquired legally. If they prove it – they will have it back. If not – everything stays in the state treasury,” news agencies quoted Mironov as saying.

Putin immediately asked the upper house speaker if he suggested abolishing the presumption of innocence and Mironov confirmed that was the essence of the suggestion, considering the great threat the country faces from corruption. But he admitted that the move had to be an extraordinary and possibly temporary measure. Mironov also added that a similar bill had been introduced in Singapore.

Putin did not say whether he liked the initiative or not.

Fair Russia poses itself as a leftist-centrist party, sometimes describing its program as “socialist”. However, unlike the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, with its Soviet-era legacy and popular support, Fair Russia still struggles to win the backing of voters. As Fair Russia’s program and rhetoric only very slightly differs from those of the parliamentary majority United Russia, the party has to rely on popular slogans and PR stunts, often based on the surefire tactics of fighting corruption. One of the latest Fair Russia initiatives in parliament was a suggestion to order the relatives of civil servants to declare their property and expenditures. The suggestion has yet to be presented as a draft amendment.

The meeting between Putin and Fair Russia leaders took place on Saturday. On Monday, Russian media published the first reaction to the proposal. “It is surprising that the head of the Upper House of the Legislative Assembly suggested the measures that are definitely contradicting Article 49 of the constitution,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted a high-placed Kremlin source as saying.

The source suggested that Mironov’s suggestion could be explained by nothing but populism and the desire to draw some attention to his party. “I would like to remind that a party is a party but the head of the Federation Council must first of all defend the law instead of stepping forward with deliberately unlawful initiative.”

Mironov himself, in a radio comment on Monday, said that the suggestion to abolish the presumption of innocence was meant to be a joke and in reality he was suggesting to introduce full confiscation of property as punishment for corruption, as well as a prison sentence.

Fair Russia has already had questionable but populist legislative suggestions, like a draft bill allowing the nationalization of businesses if the owners lack “social responsibility” submitted in February this year. The bill provided for radical measures if entrepreneurs had salary debts for more than two months or dropped the salary of the employees ten per cent or more without good reason.