MOSCOW, September 24 (RIA Novosti)
United Russia Deputies Reluctant to Divest Foreign Property
The United Russia-sponsored bill banning state officials from owning foreign property and bank accounts was deemed unconstitutional during a public discussion organized by United Russia.
The bill was brought before parliament last summer by Valery Trapeznikov and Vyacheslav Lysakov, elected to the Duma on the United Russia-Popular Front ticket.
This bill is in conflict with the constitution because it infringes on the ownership of private property and has nothing to do with fighting corruption, said United Russia’s Andrei Makarov, head of the Duma tax and budget committee.
Mikhail Barshchevsky, the Russian government representative in the higher courts, was even blunter when he said the bill was not only unconstitutional but also ineffective: “Trust a lawyer, this ban can be easily evaded, and no one will ever be able to prove anything.” “Any populist policy must have its limits,” Barshchevsky added. “You say it will be supported by the public. True, but the public will support almost anything, even shooting the governors at the end of their term, at least in some regions they would. So I would suggest thinking in terms of what’s best for the country.”
Andrei Vorobyov, who heads United Russia in the Duma, tried to prove his point with damning truths about Russian civil servants: “In Russia people often join the civil service with goals other than building bridges or improving utility services; they do so because they want to make more money. We must respond to this challenge.”
Although he was not openly critical of his party’s bill, he acknowledged that it could only be considered after a lot of amendments. “We need to find ways to make it very clear to officials that they are here to serve the nation, and they have to focus on people’s problems rather than on their hypothetical English lawn or a house opening near the Eifel Tower,” he said.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky immediately came up with a list of unusual ways to do this. He proposed classifying all the information from officials’ bank accounts. “Bank deposits benefit the nation. If they know that this information is never released, they won’t take their capital abroad. It’s more convenient to have their money at home than to fly to Cyprus every quarter,” he said.
He also proposed installing webcams in each official’s office and cancelling procedures that are most prone to corruption such as exams and army conscription. “If you don’t do this, you’ll still be sitting here 20 years from now complaining that we can’t eliminate corruption,” he concluded. However, no one seemed truly upset by this prospect.
A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov again proposed introducing the seizure of property and expanding the list of an official’s family members who must disclose their income.
Vorobyov brought up another old idea about setting up an anticorruption bureau.
A General Forever: Pavel Grachev Dies
Pavel Grachev, Russia’s former defense minister and the first General of the Army of Russia, died in Moscow on Sunday. He was 65. President Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov expressed their condolences to his family. The lying-in-state ceremony will take place in Moscow on September 25 at the Cultural Center of the Russian Armed Forces. The commission to organize the funeral is being headed by General of the Army Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff.
Pavel Grachev was taken to the hospital in critical condition on the night of September 12. Former minister Grachev was believed to have suffered a severe hypertensive crisis with possible brain damage. Food poisoning or a stroke were also considered. But no official statement had been issued as to the cause. General Grachev passed away in hospital on Sunday at 2:40 p.m.
He began his career in the Defense Ministry in 1965. In 1981-1983, he took part in military operations in Afghanistan, which earned him the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In 1983, he was seconded to Kaunas as chief of staff and deputy commander of the 7th Guards Airborne Division. In the 1990s he became the 13th commander of the Soviet Airborne Troops, holding the rank of Major-General, although this post is, as a rule, occupied by a Colonel-General.
A highlight of his life was his role in the August 1991 coup, when commanding airborne troops under orders from the coup plotters, he joined Generals Boris Gromov and Vladislav Achalov in going over to Boris Yeltsin’s side.
On May 18, 1992 he was made Defense Minister in Viktor Chernomyrdin’s government. Shortly before that he became the first Russian general to be promoted to the rank of General of the Army.
Pavel Grachev also fought in the first Chechen war (1994-1996). On November 30, 1994 an executive order by President Boris Yeltsin included him in the group responsible for the liquidation of armed bands in Chechnya.
In the winter of 1994-1995, from headquarters in Mozdok, he personally led Russian army units fighting in the Chechen Republic. Following the failure of some offensive operations in Grozny he returned to Moscow.
General Grachev’s ideas are still being implemented today: for instance, he advocated a phased reduction of the armed forces, believing that the army should be formed on a mixed principle, with a subsequent transition to a contract basis.
He was forced to retire in June 1996 after severe criticism for his failure in the operation in Chechnya. But he was not transferred to the reserve until 2007, when he reached 60 years of age. Until then, he was employed with Rosvooruzheniye and later the Rosoboronexport arms agency. From 2007, he was adviser to the general director of the Popov Radio Plant Production Association in Omsk.
Russians Reminded About Treason
The State Duma on Friday almost unanimously adopted amendments to the Criminal Code simplifying the opening of treason and espionage cases. The draft submitted by the Russian government in December 2008 said that the wording of Article 275 on treason (which carries a sentence of 12 to 20 years in prison) is difficult to use, especially since prosecutors have to prove the “hostile” nature of the defendant’s activities. The new wording also expands the list of recipients of illegal assistance and its types and goals.
The term “foreign organization” was found to be too narrow, because the jurisdiction of some organizations is not limited to their home countries. So the new wording mentions “international organizations” and also says that defendants could be “entrusted” with state secrets or could acquire them “in the line of duty, work or study.” The term “damage to external security” has been replaced with “damage to the security” of Russia, including from actions against its constitutional regime, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Similar changes have been made to Article 276 on espionage (punishable by 10 to 20 years imprisonment). “International organizations” have been added to the list of recipients of secret information and the word “external” has been removed from the term “damage to security.” Article 283 (disclosure of state secrets, punishable by up to seven years in prison) will state that people could learn state secrets not only in the line of duty or work, but also while studying. A new article covers “illegitimate receiving of information containing state secrets.” Those who have collected secret information but not yet handed it over could be given up to eight years in prison. The collection of such information through theft, deception, bribery, blackmail, coercion or threat of violence shall be considered proof of criminal intent.
The Federal Security Service (FSB) will now have more suspects to investigate and tap, and so will require more staff and better equipment, said Andrei Soldatov from the Agentura center.
A former FSB officer said in December 2008 that the law had been drafted to strengthen economic security amid the economic crisis.
Following protests by human rights organizations, Dmitry Medvedev suspended the initiative in January.
Vladislav Surkov, the then-first deputy chief of the Kremlin staff, said the amendments should be reviewed to rule out an excessively broad interpretation.
But last Friday the law was adopted in its 2008 wording. Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the State Duma Committee on Legislation, said the Duma is discussing all suspended documents, and their adoption will depend on how soon it consolidates positions with the Kremlin and the government.
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said he is not aware of that issue.
The amendments could target NGOs, including WWF Russia, said its director, Igor Chestin. WWF experts consult international organizations on many conventions.
The amendments are reportedly connected with the recent law on foreign agents and the decision to stop USAID’s operations in Russia, said Public Chamber member Yelena Topoleva, who expects the situation to worsen.
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