Russia is easing anti-corruption laws for officials in the event of ‘extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances.’ What does this mean?
- What happened?
- When does this apply?
- What type of violations will be forgiven? Does this apply to bribe taking?
- What requirements?
- Does that mean that in the event of an epidemic or an official being sanctioned they can ignore all these restrictions?
- And who will determine why an official failed to comply with anti-corruption requirements?
The Russian State Duma adopted in its first reading two government draft laws that will allow state officials and the employees of state-owned companies to avoid liability for breaking anti-corruption laws under certain circumstances.
— Representatives of all branches of the government at both the federal and regional levels, including judges, senators, lawmakers, governors, ambassadors, civil servants, and individuals who hold public office;
— Representatives of local governments;
— Employees of state-owned companies, state-owned corporations, and state funds and organizations “created to perform tasks assigned to federal government bodies”;
— Military personnel and law enforcement officials: from the Interior Ministry to the Emergency Situations Ministry.
After the main draft laws are adopted, there are plans to extend this provision to members of the Russian cabinet, as well.
When does this apply?
The draft laws cover a wide range of “extraordinary and unavoidable” circumstances “beyond the control” of civil servants and individuals who hold public office. While the bill doesn’t contain a closed list, it does provide the following examples:
- Natural disasters (including earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes)
- Military operations
- Terrorist acts
- Prohibitions and restrictions adopted by state bodies and local governments
- Prohibitive or restrictive measures adopted by foreign states, including sanctions
In general, this would apply in circumstances that couldn’t have been anticipated, avoided, or overcome by the official seeking an exemption from liability.
What type of violations will be forgiven? Does this apply to bribe taking?
No, it doesn’t. Bribery is a criminal offense, and the draft law doesn’t protect from criminal liability. Rather, it offers protection from dismissal for individuals who formally violated particular anti-corruption restrictions, prohibitions, and requirements.
For example, civil servants are supposed to file regular declarations about their income, expenses, property, and property obligations (more recently, they even have to report on their assets held in cryptocurrency). They are also required to provide this information on their spouses and dependent children.
Governors are forbidden from keeping money or even having accounts in foreign banks located outside of the Russian Federation, and they aren’t allowed to own foreign securities either. And the employees of Russia’s Central Bank are obliged to transfer Russian securities into a trust if owning them could lead to a conflict of interest.
In general, all government officials and public office holders are supposed to file regular reports and avoid personal dealings that could lead to conflicts of interest. Otherwise, they may get dismissed due to loss of trust, and their bosses may also lose their jobs if they knew about the existence of a conflict of interest and did nothing.
The bill will allow these individuals to keep their positions in the event that they failed to fulfill their duties due to extraordinary circumstances.
Does that mean that in the event of an epidemic or an official being sanctioned they can ignore all these restrictions?
No, this only applies to violations that can be attributed precisely to the epidemic or the sanctions, for example. The official who committed the violation will have to convincingly prove that they did so due to these specific circumstances, and not for some other reason.
Moreover, after the “emergency” is over (or, for example, if the sanctions are lifted), the official in question will have one month to correct the omission, by filing their income tax return, for example.
And who will determine why an official failed to comply with anti-corruption requirements?
The special commissions for compliance with requirements for official conduct and the settlement of conflicts of interests (or their equivalents), which exist within government structures.
Translation by Eilish Hart