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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Limits Criminal Immunity For Former Presidents

The lower house of Russia's parliament Wednesday substantially weakened a Kremlin bill that would grant former presidents sweeping immunity from prosecution, in a move that could bring legal problems for Boris Yeltsin, whose close associates are linked to corruption charges.

According to the new version, a former president can be prosecuted if the parliament first agrees to strip immunity. The bill also applies to family members of former presidents.

The vote in the State Duma revived debate about allegations of Kremlin corruption while Yeltsin was president. Investigations into the accusations have largely languished under Yeltsin's predecessor and onetime protege, Vladimir Putin.

The vote follows last week's arrest in the United States of a former Kremlin property chief and Yeltsin ally, Pavel Borodin, on a Swiss money-laundering warrant. Borodin is in a New York jail pending a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Putin signed a decree immediately after Yeltsin's abrupt resignation Dec. 31, 1999, guaranteeing immunity for former presidents. That prompted allegations that Yeltsin stepped down before the end of his term out of fear of investigations into his administration.

The Kremlin then submitted a bill to parliament echoing the decree, in an effort to enshrine it in law.

The Duma amended that bill Wednesday to allow lawmakers to strip a former president or family members of their immunity by a simple majority vote, if prosecutors first open an investigation. Many lawmakers complained the original bill gave presidents free rein to break the law.

The Duma passed the bill 275 to 139 in the second of three readings.

The Duma is controlled by pro-government parties, and observers suggested that such a drastic change in the bill couldn't have been possible without tacit approval by the government. The Kremlin had no immediate comment on the amendments.

Prosecutors have said there was evidence that members of Yeltsin's inner circle including Borodin received kickbacks from the Swiss construction company Mabetex in exchange for an about $600 million contract to renovate the Kremlin.

The Kremlin has denied the allegations, and the Russian Prosecutor General's office closed the case in December for lack of evidence. Swiss prosecutors have continued the probe and issued a warrant for Borodin's arrest.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded Borodin's release, but the Kremlin has kept mum on the case. The respected daily Izvestia claimed Wednesday that now that Putin has been in power for a year, he considers himself free of any obligations to his predecessor and may be moving to distance himself from members of Yeltsin's inner circle.

"The new president may need certain help from Swiss prosecutors, Brooklyn judges and the Republicans to establish order at home," Izvestia said in a front-page article.