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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's Time for The State to Police Itself

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Like anyone with any common sense at all, we fully support efforts to combat money-laundering and illegal capital flight. Russia’s failure to comply with the international convention against money laundering and its place on the black list of “noncooperative” countries are certainly obstacles to economic development and integration into the global economy.

Therefore, to a considerable extent, we are pleased by news this week that President Vladimir Putin has signed into law an anti-money laundering bill and that an agency will be created to track suspicious financial operations and prosecute lawbreakers.

However, we share the legitimate concerns of those who fear that the state is still too weak and too strongly influenced by private interests to fairly and objectively investigate the information that it receives. In fact, we doubt whether the state will even be able to responsibly safeguard the information it is given.

Putin himself, in numerous statements including his most recent state of the nation address, has admitted that state organs — including law enforcement agencies — are often used as tools in private conflicts. We wonder whether the president will remember his own counsel when he is setting up this new agency and, for instance, will give the Audit Chamber oversight over this agency and stipulate particularly stiff criminal penalties for corruption within it.

Moreover, while we applaud the government’s seemingly earnest efforts to crack down on money laundering, we can’t help but think that now might be a good time to also put its own house in order. If, for instance, the state can compel banks and other commercial structures to release financial information to it, presumably under the threat of criminal prosecution, then there should be no reason why the Duma or the Audit Chamber cannot be given subpoena powers to pry similar information from the state itself and from public officials.

The public is obviously tired of hearing reports of state agencies ignoring requests for documents presented by the Audit Chamber. The public is tired of hearing about the scandalous reports the chamber files that are never investigated or prosecuted.

The anti-money-laundering initiatives present an excellent opportunity to take the fight against state corruption to a new level as well. With any luck, the result will not only be a reduction of state corruption — which itself will do as much to bolster economic development as cracking down on money laundering — but also a brilliant public-relations coup, as the administration will be widely seen to be as devoted to policing itself as it is to policing others.