Russia to ban officials from holding assets overseas

By bne IntelliNews August 13, 2012

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The Russian government is mulling a ban on state officials from owning overseas property or stashing assets abroad. The move comes as the opposition casts its eye on the assets held by influential figures in the power vertical as a point of leverage.

A bill co-drafted by State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Lysakov of United Russia would ban foreign assets from being held by officials, their wives and their children, Kommersant reports, citing an unnamed source in the presidential administration. The law would cover people in government service from the municipal to the federal level, such as officials in the security services, the Prosecutor General's Office, the customs service and the Investigative Committee.

These plans would mean politicians "stand with both feet in Russia," as Lysakov told Vesti FM earlier this month. It is also "a question of the loyalty of government officials and an assessment of their patriotism," the source told Kommersant. A rival bill co-authored by Just Russia Deputy Ilya Ponomaryov would require officials to declare foreign property and assets on a special register.

The proposed legislation comes in the wake of accusations by opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny against Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin. On July 26, Navalny published documents on his website that he says prove Bastrykin has a residence permit and owns real estate in the Czech Republic. Pointing out that the country is a member of Nato, Navalny also pronounced the official a "foreign agent," a term borrowed from the law on non-government organizations, recently signed by President Vladimir Putin. According to the law, NGOs with financing from overseas are to be classed as "foreign agents."

The response of the authorities has been remarkably sharp, and Navalny has found himself under attack on several fronts. Since making the claim against Bastrykin on July 26, the anti-corruption blogger has been charged with embezzlement and reportedly discovered listening bugs in his office. Prosecutors in Vologda have called for extremism charges to be brought against him, while Kremlin-backed youth group Nashi has launched a legal challenge to his seat on the board at flag carrier Aeroflot.

The strength of the response suggests Navalny has hit a sensitive spot. The newspaper's source claims that the Kremlin will support Lysakov's proposal, pointing out that the state wants to control foreign assets and avoid further accusations, as many civil servants and Duma deputies have assets stashed overseas.

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