17 February 2011
ITAR-TASS publishes commentary by Viktoria Burkovskaya on Dmitry Medvedev’s intention to tighten punishment for bribes

President Medvedev wants harsher punishment for bribes

By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

MOSCOW, February 17 (Itar-Tass) —— Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who declared war on corruption as a major priority, intends to tighten punishment for bribes. To this end he submitted amendments to the Criminal Code (CC) and the Code of Administrative Offences (CAO) to the State Duma on Wednesday with the intention to multiply fines and prison terms for commercial bribery and for receiving and giving bribes.

However, experts doubt that this measure will be effective.

The document was developed by the presidential council for the fight against corruption on instructions from Dmitry Medvedev himself, which he gave late last year in line with the requirements of the Convention of the UN and the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). In June, Russia will have to report on the implementation of the recommendations of that organization.

It has been decided that the most effective way would be not so much to put corrupt officials in prison, as make them pay fines exceeding the bribes in question many times. The maximum allowable rate is 100, provided that the overall amount does not exceed half a billion rubles (more than 17 million dollars).

The meaning of the document is that a bribe will primarily entail a fine many times greater than the sum of bribes. The fines will be applied to both bribe-takers and bribe-givers. The latter will be punished less harshly, though. They will be forced to pay smaller fines and serve shorter sentences.

Multiple fines will be used under four articles of the Criminal Code: for taking and giving bribes, for commercial bribery, as well as intermediation in bribery. Bribes are to be divided into four types, depending on their size: simple (up to 25,000 rubles), substantial (between 25,000 and 150,000 rubles), large (from 150,000 rubles to 1 million rubles) and very large (over 1 million rubles). For a simple bribe the culprits will face a minimum punishment: a fine of up to 50 times the sum of bribe or imprisonment of up to three years and a 20-fold fine. For bribery on a large scale the one responsible will get a fine (80-fold to 100-fold), or imprisonment for a term of eight to fifteen years and a 70-fold fine.

For bribe-takers holding governmental posts the bill provides for a 60-80-fold fine or a prison term of up to ten years plus a 50-fold fine. If a bribe was taken by a group of persons, or if the bribe was extorted, or its size was qualified as large (over 150,000 rubles), then the fine will be equivalent to the bribe multiplied by a factor of 70-90, or there will follow an imprisonment for a term of seven to twelve years, or a ban will be imposed on holding certain positions for up to three years and a 60-fold fine. Lastly, a particularly large amount of a bribe (over 1 million rubles) may be punishable with a 80-100-fold fine plus disqualification from certain posts or activities for up to three years, or with a prison term of from 8 to 15 years and a 70-fold fine.

Under the current Criminal Code the fines for bribery do not exceed 200,000 rubles, and imprisonment, three years. The maximum jail term may be increased from three to five years.

Another significant innovation in anti-corruption legislation will be the interpretation of mediation as a separate offense. It is proposed to punish mediators with a 30-40-fold fine and with disqualification from certain positions for up to three years, or with imprisonment for up to five years with a fine 20 times the size of the bribe.

The average amount of bribe in Moscow last year exceeded 500,000 rubles, the acting chief of Moscow’s department of the Investigation Committee, Vadim Yakovenko, told Itar-Tass.

According to the official, last year "the focus was on the investigation of complex and socially significant criminal cases against unscrupulous officials, to whom the state has delegated the powers of governance, budget funds distribution, or business monitoring."

"The damage caused by their criminal acts approached 1.5 billion. More than a third of this amount was recovered for the state budget at the investigation stage," he said.

In all, according to investigation department, says the website NEWSru.com, in Moscow last year there were opened over 760 criminal cases over corruption, and more than 60 of them - against 550 defendants - have been sent to court. A total of 38 persons with a special legal status were brought to justice.

Reports indicating that the monstrous scale of corruption in Russia appear in the media almost every day. On Wednesday, the governor of the Kurgan Region, Oleg Bogomolov, demanded that the law enforcers should intensify efforts to combat corruption in the region.

Speaking at a special conference, Bogomolov made this bitter confession: "Almost every single official is most certainly corrupt and a bribe-taker."

Experts’ opinions of the latest presidential initiative are varied.

The head of the Duma Security Committee, Vladimir Vasilyev, told Kommersant that the fines are a more efficient mechanism than confiscation. The mechanism of confiscation requires time to prove it. In the meantime, the "corrupt official will retain the main weapon - money - and may start to buy off."

"It is possible, of course, to put bribe-takers in prison, thus turning criminals into dependents, because the country will have to feed them. Or it is possible to make them pay some serious money,” a member of the presidium of the Russian National Anti-Corruption Committee, Boris Reznik, told Novyie Izvestia. “Their properties will be inventoried: all their cottages and Mercedes limousines. That would be of some use for the country. All this would go into the state budget, and it will be possible to increase subsidies, for instance, those for social projects. Therefore, corrupt officials may even bring some real benefits."

However, some experts still doubt the effectiveness of the proposed innovations.

Heavy fines are a very harsh sanction, indeed, but its effectiveness is questionable, the daily Vedomosti quotes Viktoria Burkovskaya, of the EPAM law firm, as saying. She claims that there can be no leverage to collect the fines.

"Anyone who has ever studied law knows that crime shrinks not when the penalty gets harsher, but when it is inevitable. In the meantime, the authorities do nothing to this end,” the periodical quotes the president of the Foundation for Applied Policy Research INDEM, Georgy Satarov, as saying. “It is necessary to develop measures aimed at reducing the factors that give rise to corruption and at preventing it."