On May 23, during his annual meeting with representatives of Russian business, President Vladimir Putin commented on a possible amnesty for those imprisoned for economic crimes, proposed by Russian business ombudsman, Boris Titov.
Titov’s plan had been to start the amnesty on May 26, the Day of Russian Entrepreneurship. The ombudsman’s plan reflects the prevailing consensus in Russia that thousands of entrepreneurs are unnecessarily or improperly imprisoned, and that this stunts economic development, encourages capital flight and leads to migration abroad of some of Russia’s most creative and productive citizens.
Russian news agency ITAR TASS reported that President Putin said the amnesty project is not fully prepared and he proposed to analyse it further:
“I propose to thoroughly analyse it with the help of businessmen, experts and the general prosecutors’ office; to check it, weigh everything and then make a decision.”
Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, and the head of the criminal law committee, Pavel Krashennikov, have voiced support for the amnesty. They have noted, however, that it would first be necessary to take a closer look at the facts.
The UK’s leading political radio programme, Today, highlighted the Khodorkovsky case as the key question regarding any possible amnesty.
BBC reporter Steve Rosenberg asked Russian MP and member of the Committee on Economic Policy, Viktor Zvagelsky:
“If the Amnesty goes ahead the big question is whether jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky will be released? The Kremlin critic is currently serving his second sentence for economic crimes.”
“We are only going to consider amnesty for those prisoners serving their first jail term – we shouldn’t make exceptions for Khodorkovsky.”
Meanwhile, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant commented on Putin’s statement:
“All this is very familiar, and, perhaps, this is even more terrible. Because getting accustomed to this is a separate drama of our time. So what do we have here? Firstly such an elegant methodology to launch the proposal on an endless circle: let’s talk, let’s see, let’s take in experts, let’s involve the Prosecutor General’s Office, etc.
Secondly, even scarier, is the key phrase. For the law graduate that phrase is monstrous. I mean the words that ‘there are other categories of citizens who are formally convicted for economic crimes, but the level of their danger to the public goes far beyond the nature of the problem you are talking about’ (as cited by RIA Novosti).
Once upon a time we could witness proletarian bluntness [from Putin]; things were spoken out straight with names and surnames. Now, since everything has to be more sterile on the surface, surnames, names, and other identifying details are no longer pronounced (to prevent, maybe, the European Court from noticing). And here we are – no names, all in general terms, but whoever has to will understand what, about whom and why it was said.
In Russia, the guarantor of the Constitution officially, clearly and in front of the whole world is saying that we convict people for one thing, but, in fact, it’s for something else. And this is ‘normal’. They cannot be freed just like that, and the experts with the Prosecutor General’s Office (the main body protecting human rights and the champion of the law) must take it from here and take this into account.”