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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin to Firm Grip On Crime Fighting

In what could be another attempt to restrict the power of regional leaders, the Kremlin is considering setting up a new law enforcement agency to combat economic crimes that would report directly to the president.

The new service would have as its base the Interior Ministry's main anti-economic crime directorate and its regional branches, an official at the directorate said in an interview Thursday. The official, who asked not to be named, said the new service may also include regional branches of the Federal Tax Police and State Customs Committee.

"We cooperate with them very often and such a merger would help establish a powerful, efficient service," the official said.

She said branches of the new service would report directly to a federal command and, thus, would be independent of regional administrations that often use subsidies under their control to put pressure on local branches of federal law enforcement agencies.

Regional economic crime units report to local police chiefs, unlike organized crime units, which report to the head of their directorate at the Interior Ministry in Moscow.

The official said the plan to set up the new service has already been discussed by the Interior Ministry's top brass and Kremlin officials, but it remains unclear whether it will be implemented. "All these plans remain on paper and have not been signed and sealed," she said.

President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that directorates in charge of battling economic crime will be set up in each of the seven federal districts created last month.

So far, only one law enforcement agency, the Prosecutor General's Office, has acted to set up directorates to oversee each of the new districts.

Officials from the Prosecutor General's Office f which is responsible for coordinating the activities of all the country's law enforcement agencies f met Thursday with their counterparts from the Audit Chamber to discuss cooperation.

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin proposed to Putin earlier this week that a special council be set up to coordinate the work of his agency, the Prosecutor General's Office and the presidential administration's auditing directorate, which is authorized to check any organization in the country.

Independent experts said law enforcement agencies do need to better coordinate activities, but disapproved of the creation of new crime-fighting bodies.

Such a "monster" union of economic crime fighters, tax policemen and customs officers could spin out of "civilian authorities'" control and "pose huge problems" for the Kremlin, said Alexander Pikayev of the Moscow Carnegie Center in an interview Thursday.

He also noted it would be difficult for regional branches of law enforcement agencies to break free of local administrations financially due to cuts in next year's federal budget for law enforcement. These cuts may force regional law enforcers to ask for additional funding from local governors, who could demand more loyalty in return.