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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Auditors Could Get Power to Prosecute

Plans are in the works to turn the Audit Chamber — parliament’s budgetary watchdog widely considered to be a paper tiger — into an anti-corruption weapon with teeth, a State Duma deputy said this week.

Valery Galchenko, the member of the Duma’s budget committee in charge of the chamber, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that deputies will soon draft a law that would authorize the Audit Chamber to conduct criminal investigations and bring cases to court.

At the same time, the new plan would take the chamber largely out of parliament’s hands by having the president nominate its chairman for Duma approval. Currently, the Duma picks the Audit Chamber chairman independently.

In addition to giving the chamber the power to bring criminals to trial — a right now held by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the tax police, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the State Customs Committee — Galchenko said the new law would allow the Audit Chamber to set up offices in the seven federal districts and allow it to lobby new legislation more effectively.

The Audit Chamber checks the government’s fulfillment of the budget and conducts audits of government ministries and companies in which the state has a more than 50 percent stake. It monitors the Central Bank, tax collection and loans from international financial organizations.

The current law allows it to use its findings only to make recommendations to federal prosecutors or to the FSB about opening a criminal investigation.

Since it was set up in 1994, the chamber has earned a reputation for bold, independent investigations, exposing corrupt practices in many state enterprises.

But there is usually little follow-up on the findings, as the Prosecutor General’s Office simply ignores them or opens investigations and then lets them die.

Audit Chamber spokesman Vladimir Lyubitsky said the chamber supported the proposed new law because it would allow it to work more effectively.

But analyst Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation was skeptical the new law would help the country stamp out corruption.

Since "all government bodies are inter-linked" it is unlikely that the reorganized chamber would be powerful enough to fight corruption, he said.

Moreover, the creation of a new body with the power to conduct criminal investigations could be "a dangerous tendency" aimed to create "another special service."

The Audit Chamber, headed by former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, has just finished checks of ORT television and Rosvooruzheniye, the country’s largest arms exporter, Lyubitsky said.

He said the results of the audits have not yet been discussed by the chamber’s collegium, which has to approve findings before they are forwarded to prosecutors for investigation and released to the public.