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Kremlin Seeks to Ban Gifts for Bureaucrats

Bureaucrats will be banned from accepting gifts, officials will lose their immunity and bribe-takers will have their assets seized as part of the Kremlin's efforts to stamp out corruption.

Kremlin spokesman Alexei Pavlov confirmed on Friday that Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin has ordered the Justice Ministry to work out the changes.

The proposed measures address three recommendations set by the Council of Europe in 2008 that the government has to address by the end of June, when it submits a compliance report to the Strasbourg-based human rights group.

The Justice Ministry has been ordered to draft the necessary legislation by June 1, Vedomosti reported Friday.

Pavlov declined to elaborate on the amendments. Spokespeople for the Justice Ministry did not answer repeated calls for comment Friday. A spokesman for the State Duma's Legal Affairs Committee said that none of the reforms had submitted to his committee.

The Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, the Group of States Against Corruption, or GRECO, made 26 recommendations in a country-evaluation report released in December 2008. The report found that "corruption is a widespread, systemic phenomenon in the Russian Federation."

Russia, which joined GRECO in 2007, is under no obligation to fulfill any of the recommendations, but it is supposed to submit its first compliance report by June 30.

Recommendation 22 calls for eliminating “the practice of accepting substantial gifts of any form in the public administration” and "for the abolition of the legal justification for such gifts.”

A reform of the Civil Code sponsored by President Dmitry Medvedev last year limited the value of gifts to 3,000 rubles ($100). Under the latest measure, accepting gifts would be banned completely, Vedomosti said.

Recommendation 14 calls for an amendment to the Criminal Code to allow the confiscation of proceeds from all corruption cases, including property.

Article 104 of the Criminal Code currently excludes confiscations in cases involving bribery in the public sector and abuse of authority.

Recommendation 6 calls for a reduction of “the categories of persons enjoying immunity from prosecution to the minimum required in a democratic society.” The report does not specify this minimum, but in the analytical section its authors express concern “about the large number of beneficiaries of immunities” in the country.

Currently, immunity from prosecution is enjoyed by a wide range of officeholders, presidential candidates, former presidents, parliamentary candidates, electoral commission members and lawyers.

It is unclear which groups will lose the privilege.

The country will fulfill only 12 of the 26 recommendations, Vedomosti quoted an unidentified Duma staff member as saying.

Given the country's level of corruption, even 12 should be considered a success, said Yelena Panfilova, head of the Russia office of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

"These are recommendations and not orders. When they were prepared … it was unclear whether Russia would meet any of them," she told The Moscow Times.

Among the recommendations, she said, is the strengthening of the role of civil society. "Things like this cannot be solved with laws and orders," she said.

She added that the big problem in Russia was not a lack of legislation but implementation and enforcement of existing laws.

Kirill Kabanov, chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, said the proposed reforms go into the right direction, even if they came late.

Medvedev has made fighting corruption a hallmark of his presidency and revived largely dormant initiatives that started under his mentor and predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

He expanded a six-member anti-corruption council to 24 members and last year unveiled a "National Plan Against Corruption," to be updated every two years.

Last month the president added a "National Strategy" to the plan, which defines longer-term government policy and calls, among other things, for measures to be adopted to meet international obligations like those to the Council of Europe.

Russia was ranked a low 146th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's worldwide corruption index last year.

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