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22 Feb, 2013 03:11

Duma passes 1st reading of Putin's bill on foreign assets

Duma passes 1st reading of Putin's bill on foreign assets

The Russian lower house has approved in the first reading a set of amendments to the Law on Government that bans foreign bank accounts and securities for top state officials.

443 deputies voted in favor of the bill with the required minimum to change the law on the government being two thirds of all present Lower House MPs, which makes 226 votes.

The bill was submitted to the parliament by President Putin last week and also last week it was approved by the State Duma anti-corruption committee.

The bill covers all officials that assume state positions in the Russian Federation, the Prosecutor General and his deputies, the Central Bank board, top regional officials and key executives of state-owned corporations, funds and other organizations that have their managers appointed by the president, the government or the prosecutor general.

These officials are prohibited from owning bank accounts in foreign banks and also securities and shares issued by foreign companies.

It should be noted that the State Duma is currently preparing for the second reading of a similar draft submitted by a joint group of MPs that introduces much tougher regulations.

The Duma draft bans all foreign assets, including real estate and bonds issued by foreign governments, to a much wider group of civil servants that includes, for example, all military servicemen and customs officers.

However, both the MPs and analysts expect the Duma and the Presidential drafts to be merged in one package and rewritten in line of Putin’s softer recommendations.

Populist opposition party LDPR on Friday suggested what they called a “zero option” – to legalize everything purchased or transferred abroad before January 1, 2014, and to ban all transactions that happen after this date. The Duma did not support this initiative.

The Lower House is expected to approve fully the bill on foreign assets ban for officials before the end of March.

Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation on Thursday released the results of their research that showed almost unanimous popular support for the foreign property ban for officials.

The level of support of each of the bill’s provisions ranged from 85 to 89 per cent (even though 26 per cent of those polled only learned about the initiative from the questionnaire).

Russian political experts say that such a level of support means the ban on foreign assets and the general course of fighting corruption would boost the authorities’ approval ratings.

The move to ‘nationalize the elite’ is obviously enjoying broad public support, says political scientist and United Russia MP Vyacheslav Nikonov.

The arguments of the bills’ sponsors are very much in line with the voter expectations as the vast majority of Russians possess no foreign property and do not understand why it should be different for those who professionally represent their interests, Nikonov added, according to Vzglyad online daily.

Another United Russia MP, head of the Political Science Department of the Russian Economic University, Vladimir Burmatov, said that the poll showed that the community had an absolute consensus on the issue and approved of the general line to orient those in state bodies towards national interests.

Today, Vladimir Putin and United Russia are the political force capable of formulating both comprehensive suggestions and a comprehensive reply to this public demand,” Burmatov said in comments published on the United Russia website.

Political analyst and member of the Russian Public Chamber Sergey Markov expects the new bill to significantly decrease the social tensions in the country as the anti-corruption program is one of those rare topics that unites the authorities and the opposition.

This is a unique case when the opinions of very different groups of population match completely, the supporters of the authorities and the opposition alike. If there is a consolidated position of all social groups, this means that the question is not simply ripe, it is over-ripe,” Markov was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.

Vice-President of the Center for Strategic Communications Dmitry Abzalov noted that the move was promoting not simply the nationalization of the authorities, but also the ousting of businessmen from state structures. This is an important part of the general anti-corruption line, which he called “one of the trends of the current political season.”

The head of the State Duma Committee for Security and Countering Corruption also welcomed the broad public support of the initiative and called it proof that most Russians were interested in raising the level of protection of the country’s national interests.