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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World Bank Backs Legal Reforms

ST. PETERSBURG — The World Bank fully backs President Vladimir Putin's attempts to reform Russia's cumbersome legal system, the bank's chief said Monday.

"I'm under the impression that [Putin] has identified this as a central issue and that's the way it should be," said bank president James Wolfensohn. "We're here to try to support him intellectually or with experience in any way we can. The leadership comes from him."

Wolfensohn was in St. Petersburg for an international conference on court reform, a forum that attracted hundreds of participants including ministers of justice, judges and parliament members.

He stressed that Russia was a good setting for the conference, which focused in particular on how corruption and uneven application of the law contribute to poverty worldwide.

Putin has pledged sweeping reform of Russia's complex and often corrupt judicial system.

"Judicial reform in Russia is our major political priority, a strategic task we are now working on very seriously," Putin told Wolfensohn and other conference participants during a meeting later Monday in Moscow.

Putin also spoke out strongly against the death penalty, saying Russia should not revive executions despite public support for them.

Wolfensohn, speaking at a joint news conference with Putin's deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, pointed out that the anti-corruption battle would require much time and effort.

"Corruption exists at all levels in a society, and not just in Russian society. It will take time to get it out of the culture," he said. "People will have to recognize that everybody benefits in a less corrupt society."

Kozak, who is responsible for the Kremlin's legal reform package, agreed that corruption remained a serious threat.

"As long as there is the opportunity to bribe courts, investigators and prosecutors … there will be no end to capital flight and all of the other problems we face," he said.

Wolfensohn arrived Sunday for a six-day visit including talks on World Bank projects in Russia, among them education reform and upgrading heating, water and sewage systems.

He traveled to Moscow later Monday to meet with Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and other officials.

The World Bank has funded 49 projects in Russia since 1992, worth a total of $11 billion.