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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crime Fighter Yegorov Defends Yeltsin Decree

The man in charge of fighting organized crime in Russia defended President Boris Yeltsin's decree providing for a crackdown on mafia gangs Friday saying that the security forces' hands were tied under the current legal system. Mikhail Yegorov, who is first deputy interior minister and heads the ministry's Organized Crime Department, told The Moscow Times that only 15 people had been prosecuted for "banditism" in Russia last year, even though he knew of the existence of 5,631 organized crime bands across the country. "We know who they are," Yegorov said. "But in the framework of the existing criminal code we can't do anything about it." People's right to walk the streets without fear of crime was also a human right, Yegorov said, defending the decree against the charge that it flouts human rights. Yeltsin's decree of last Tuesday signalled the president's commitment to fight crime, the everyday problem that is the biggest worry for most Russians, but has so far only kicked up a political storm about his constitutional powers. Yeltsin returned from a three-day trip to the Russian Far East late Thursday, Itar-Tass reported, to cope with the political row the decree has caused. He cancelled a meeting with the Vietnamese prime minister due to "urgent state business," the agency said. Tass said that Yeltsin held an improvised 45-minute "conference" at the airport with his chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Interior Minister Viktor Yerin as soon as he stepped off the airplane. The decree has angered Yeltsin's main allies in the State Duma, the deputies of the reformist Russia's Choice faction. They have called it blatantly unconstitutional and a step toward authoritarian rule and away from liberal principles. Controversial points in the decree give the police and security forces the right to detain suspects without trial for 30 days, investigate bank accounts and search premises without a warrant. Leading Russia's Choice deputy Sergei Yushenkov openly challenged Georgy Satarov, Yeltsin's main political adviser and a well-known liberal, in the lobby of the Duma on Friday to say whether he supported the decree. Satarov smiled awkwardly and said nothing in reply. Satarov later said that he had been out of Moscow when the decree was signed and found about it only on his return. Yeltsin's traditional parliamentary foes were also up in arms about the decree Friday, accusing the president of trying to bypass the legislature. A motion condemning Yeltsin for breaking eight articles in the constitution and calling for him to suspend the decree was put on the agenda but had to be postponed till next week for lack of time. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov invoked the name of Stalin's secret police and advised reporters to "take the instructions to the NKVD of Dec. 1 1934 and compare them to this decree." The security committee of the Duma has begun drafting its own law on fighting crime in an attempt to seize back the initiative from Yeltsin. Vladimir Isakov, head of the legislative committee and a sworn opponent of Yeltsin, said the draft law was proof that the problem "has to be solved on the level of legislation and not through arbitrary decrees." Viktor Ilyukhin, the Communist head of the security committee, said that many measures in his draft law would be as draconian as in Yeltsin's decree. But he said his law would be carefully formulated not to infringe the constitution or the criminal code. Yegorov said that he would back new legislation in the Duma to tackle organized crime as the existing criminal code was too feeble. He said that his department knew of 39 criminal "brotherhoods" in the Moscow region and 433 gangs, but did not have the powers to break them up. He said that of 154 people condemned to death last year in Russia, 149 had been pardoned and only two people had been executed. Only 19 percent of more than 18,000 people found guilty of possessing firearms had been sent to jail. Yegorov said that Moscow, St. Petersburg and a few other cities had become booming crime centers because provincial police forces in small towns were driving their criminals out and towards the big cities.