Russia’s Federal Protective Service is getting the right to classify information about property owned by officials like Putin and Medvedev. Does it matter?
- So what happened?
- What’s the story with this legislation?
- What’s so important about this?
- But is there any current public access to such information about officials like Putin?
- This legislation applies to whom exactly? To which government officials?
- So what? All state officials are still required to publish financial disclosures revealing their income and property.
- How have lawmakers already adopted this legislation in its second reading, when I’m only hearing about it for the first time?
- Will the bill pass?
So what happened?
Russia’s State Duma has adopted the second reading of draft legislation that will allow key government officials to hide information about their bank accounts and property.
What’s the story with this legislation?
The legislation amends several federal laws on state security that regulate the work of the Federal Protective Service (FSO), which is responsible for the safety of the president, the prime minister, and other key government officials. One of the amendments adds the following small but significant clause to the FSO’s mandate:
“[The FSO shall] guard the personal data of officials under state protection and the personal data of their family members.”
What’s so important about this?
The legislation defines “personal data” in incredibly vague terms, meaning it could include virtually any kind of information imaginable. From a Russian legal standpoint, personal data is “any information relating directly or indirectly to a certain or determined individual.” In other words, “personal data” could include bank account information, evidence of real estate owned in Russia, or indeed information about property owned anywhere. And the FSO, on the pretext of security, could demand that all state agencies remove such information about key government officials and their relatives from public access.
But is there any current public access to such information about officials like Putin?
To a certain degree, yes there is. For example, Russia has a unified state real estate register, which you can use to find out if Vladimir Putin (or someone with the exact same name) owns a specific apartment. Another database — the Unified State Register of Legal Entities — allows you to find out who owns any particular legal entity, such as a company, a foundation, or a nonprofit organization.
This legislation applies to whom exactly? To which government officials?
The amendments apply to anyone guarded by the FSO, as well as those individuals’ families. That definitely includes President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Federation Council Chairperson Valentina Matviyenko, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin, Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev, Attorney General Yuri Chaika, and Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin. The FSO can also assign protection to deputies of parliament, officials in federal agencies, and literally anyone else, on orders from the president. That, for example, is why the FSO also guards Patriarch Kirill, the high priest of the Russian Orthodox Church.
So what? All state officials are still required to publish financial disclosures revealing their income and property.
Yes, but not everyone guarded by the FSO is required to file public disclosures, and any published reports might obscure the truth. An essential tool for investigative journalists writing about corruption, public databases like the Unified State Register of Legal Entities enable important watchdog work. Ilya Shumanov, the deputy general director of Transparency International Russia, recently warned on Facebook that this legislation endangers “not just citizen investigations, but investigative work by the state authorities, who also rely on information from these government registries.”
How have lawmakers already adopted this legislation in its second reading, when I’m only hearing about it for the first time?
Because the controversial amendments to existing laws on state security only appeared after the legislation’s first reading. You can thank United Russia deputy Vasily Piskarev for the changes. Piskarev previously worked with Alexander Bastrykin as the first deputy head of Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee.
Will the bill pass?
Almost certainly. President Putin introduced the legislation himself, and Russian lawmakers very rarely reject draft laws like this.