Georgy Bovt today draws attention to the fact that the State Duma has been unseasonably busy this last drowsy summer month. The most recent legislative endeavour is a bill, initiated by United Russia, to bar deputies from owning business assets or having bank accounts abroad. As Bovt points out, whilst ostensibly a measure to reduce corruption, it seems rather convenient that the deputy most likely to fall foul of this law is opposition heavyweight and A Just Russia member Gennady Gudkov, who United Russia has tried at several points to discredit through revelations about his business dealings abroad. Interestingly, no one from the ruling party seems to be pointing a finger at First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Bovt outlines his issues with the bill:
Of the 450 State Duma deputies, about 100 have declared in the past that they own foreign real estate or business. But it is safe to assume that the real number is three, if not four, times higher. The bill requires deputies to sell assets within six months after the law is passed. Does anyone really believe that this will happen, particularly during an economic slowdown?
Yet six months is plenty of time to transfer these assets to offshore companies, trusts or adult children. In this way, officials and deputies will remain modest public servants on paper.
The other problem with the bill is an inherent double standard. Why should officials be prohibited from owning, say, a $75,000 studio apartment in Bulgaria, while their $5 million mansion on Rublyovskoye Shosse is allowed? United Russia should require that public officials account for all of their assets in every country, starting with Russia.
If United Russia were truly serious about fighting corruption, it wouldn’t ban the ownership of foreign assets. It would focus on the more central issue of whether a public official can justify his assets —regardless of where they are held — by his officially declared income. This is how the issue is handled in most Western countries. If these assets were obtained legally and there is no conflict of interest, let public opinion, not the Criminal Code, determine the moral aspect of public officials’ domestic and foreign holdings.
Read on here.