Bill Returns Powers to Prosecutors

The State Duma is considering a bill that would restore to the Prosecutor General's Office the right to open criminal cases against certain categories of senior government officials, a deputy said Friday.

According to the bill -- drawn up by the Supreme Court and sent to the Duma on Thursday -- the Prosecutor General's Office should regain the right to open criminal cases against investigators, judges, prosecutors and lawyers, said Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy chairman of the Constitution and State Affairs Committee, which is considering the bill.

"It would be a positive improvement, even if the prosecutors do not get back the right to open criminal cases against Duma deputies, senators and judges from the Constitutional Court," Ilyukhin said.

In May last year, a bill was approved to create the semiautonomous Investigative Committee to operate alongside the Prosecutor General's Office. As a result, criminal proceedings against senior government officials and State Duma deputies are now conducted not by the prosecutor general, but by the chief of the committee. The prosecutor general retained the authority to call for inquiries and to issue instructions on their execution.

"The Prosecutor General's Office role is now insignificant; it has lost its supervising powers. Now, we have investigators starting criminal cases against their former bosses. How can they be unbiased?" said Ilyukhin, a Communist deputy who once occupied a senior post in the Soviet Prosecutor General's Office.

Ilyukhin said the Duma is likely to consider the bill soon after his committee finishes reviewing it.

Ilyukhin said that even if the bill would not allow the Prosecutor General's Office to get all its power back, it would at least give the institution "some of its old prestige back."

Spokespeople for the Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General's Office refused to comment on the bill, while no one was available for comment at the Supreme Court on Friday.