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Despite his Swiss bank accounts, Pavel Grudinin was allowed to participate in Vladimir Putin’s reelection last year, but now he’s being kept from the parliament. Here’s why.

Источник: Meduza
Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

“We take him at his word”

On March 18, 2018, Pavel Grudnin took part in Russia’s presidential election. He lost the race, obviously, but he took second place with 11.77 percent of the vote. During the campaign, the public learned that Grudinin had failed to close his Swiss bank accounts before submitting his candidacy registration documents on December 28, 2017, as required by the law.

According to Russia’s laws, presidential candidates with foreign bank accounts are permitted to compete, only if they manage to close the accounts before the Central Election Commission finishes reviewing their registration documents. In February 2018, a month after they formally registered Grudinin’s presidential candidacy, Russian election officials learned about his bank accounts in Switzerland.

With records from Russia’s Federal Tax Service about the foreign accounts, election officials say they declined to remove Grudinin from the race because they trusted him when he said he’d closed these accounts before his candidacy was registered on January 12, 2018. “We take him at his word,” Deputy Election Commissioner Nikolai Bulaev said at the time.

What laws would have allowed election officials to revoke Grudinin’s candidacy?

With help from Russia’s Federal Tax Service, the Central Election Commission is supposed to inspect candidates’ registration documents and reject anyone who has foreign bank accounts they failed to close before providing the information in their candidacy application (Article 39, Part 2, Clause 13). After a candidate submits the necessary paperwork to run for president, election officials have 10 days to consider the application. The Federal Tax Service, meanwhile, has to finish reviewing a candidate’s financial records within 10 days of receiving a request from the Central Election Commission. In other words, the different time limits imposed under the law mean that the Federal Tax Service’s audit might come too late.

If it turns out that a registered candidate still has foreign bank accounts, the Central Election Commission can appeal to Russia’s Supreme Court, requesting the revocation of that individual’s candidacy (Article 84, Part 4, Clause 12).

“The documents we have on file can't be ignored”

On March 1, 2019, physicist and politician Zhores Alferov died, vacating a seat in the State Duma controlled by the Communist Party (KPRF). In 2016, Alferov kept his spot in the parliament as a name on the party’s federal electoral list, which means KPRF can now give his mandate to anyone else named on that ticket for whom the party didn’t have enough votes to bring to the legislature three years ago. The Communists decided to fill the vacant seat with Pavel Grudinin, who was the ninth name listed on the party’s group list in the Moscow region.

The Central Election Commission refused to admit Grudinin to the State Duma, however, citing the same foreign bank accounts it overlooked before Putin’s reelection. Officials have offered the following logic: as of late 2017, Grudinin had foreign bank accounts that were still open, which means he competed in parliamentary elections a year earlier with these same accounts. Consequently, Grudinin violated election law in 2016, which no one realized at the time. “The documents we have on file can't be ignored by members of the Central Election Commission, insofar as the law is unambiguous: someone with foreign financial resources at the moment of registration cannot be a deputy,” explained Deputy Election Commissioner Nikolai Bulaev.

It’s true that State Duma candidates are prohibited from having foreign bank accounts, but revoking candidates from a political party’s federal list (the Communist Party’s list was verified on August 1, 2016) requires a decision by the Supreme Court (Article 99, Part 11, Clause 6). Additionally, it’s unclear if this procedure can even be invoked after elections are over.

The Communist Party has vowed to challenge the Central Election Commission’s rejection in Russia’s Supreme Court.

What is the Central Election Commission supposed to do when filling a seat in the State Duma?

The commission is automatically supposed to transfer “the vacant deputy’s seat to the registered candidate proposed by the indicated body of [the deputy’s] political party.”

If a party can’t find a replacement within two weeks, the Central Election Commission intervenes, choosing someone from the list of candidates eligible to receive a deputy’s seat.

When distributing vacant deputy’s seats, election officials can exclude registered candidates from this list, but the law specifies only a limited number of justifications for excluding candidates, and it says nothing about having foreign bank accounts (Article 96, Part 4). Moreover, this decision should be formalized in a separate resolution. In Grudinin’s case, the commission never issued these documents. In fact, the agency refused to pass any resolution about transferring Alferov’s seat to him.

Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock