Law against organised crime tightened

Today Parliament adopted in the third, final, hearing the law strengthening criminal liability for the connection to organised crime.

The law rises the minimal term to a member of a criminal group who committed a serious crime from 7 to 12 years, and the maximum, from 15 to 20 years. The leaders and coordinators of the netherworld can be sent to jail for life. The criminal liability of corrupted officials, members of criminal groups, has also been toughened. The minimal prison term for them has been raised from 10 to 15 years. Membership in a criminal group is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The law generally follows the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime of November 15, 2000 ratified by Russia in 2004, which requires that membership in a criminal organisation must be a crime. In other words, connection to criminal activity can be a sufficient reason to send a man (or a woman) behind bars for long - sometimes forever - even if the fact of concrete, identifiable crime committed by this person has not been proven.

Definition of what is considered a criminal organisation in the bill follows almost a word by word the one of the Convention.

In Russia, however, such a literal approach may well mean that three drunks who robbed a kiosk with vodka will be sent to jail as a criminal gang. The prosecutors tend to qualify nearly any crime committed by several people as committed by mafia. For instance, the famous Chichvarkin case includes the allegations of organised crime.

Vladimir Gruzdev, the vice-head of the Parliament’s legislative committee, believes that ‘the measures to toughen the criminal law target the leaders of organised crime.’ ‘The expression ‘a thief-in-law’ will soon disappear from the vocabulary of our citizens,’ he said, ‘a thief must be in prison.’

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russia’s President, also supported the idea of increasing the punishment for ‘persons on the top of criminal hierarchy’. ‘This will help us better fight organised crime,’ he said in a meeting with the head of Ministry of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliev.

The law is gibberish about confiscation of criminal property. It is interesting to compare the bill with the act ‘On Organised Crime and Racketeering’ adopted in 2005 in Georgia, a former Soviet Union republic. Georgians believe that criminals should be beaten on their most sensitive spot, the wallet, and ruled out that not only the property belonging to a convicted Mafioso but of his relatives can be confiscated.

Moreover, the Georgian law presumes that any such property is illegal or can be confiscated unless the owners can identify the legal sources of income to acquire the property in question.

Yet, taken together with the law on plea bargains adopted this summer and amendments to insolvency legislation of December 2008, the bill is a powerful weapon in the hands of the law enforcement agencies. Perhaps, too powerful.



October 16, 2009