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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecution Reform Clears First Hurdle

The State Duma on Friday tentatively agreed to strip the Prosecutor General's Office of its investigative powers in an attempt to root out corruption.

Opponents of the bill, approved in a first reading by 317-61 with two abstentions, warned that it would undercut the effectiveness of the prosecutor's office.

The bill, co-sponsored by three police officials turned Duma deputies, would reassign investigators in federal, regional and municipal prosecutors' offices to a new, semi-autonomous agency affiliated with the Prosecutor General's Office.

The agency would be headed by a deputy prosecutor general nominated by the president and approved by the Federation Council. The prosecutor general would have to receive approval from the Federation Council to oust the agency head.

The Prosecutor General's Office would retain its other two main tasks of overseeing investigations and prosecuting cases in court.

Bill co-author Alexei Volkov of United Russia said Friday that the legislation was designed to undercut corruption in the ranks. "Even prosecutors in tsarist Russia did not enjoy such wide powers as they do now," he said in presenting the bill to the Duma.

Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, who once occupied a senior post in the Soviet Prosecutor General's Office, said it was the "most destructive" bill he had seen in years. "It destroys the unity of the prosecutor's office and undercuts its oversight functions," he said.

The new agency, tentatively called the investigative committee, would enjoy broad autonomy within prosecutors' offices in all 88 regions. Its investigators would not be obliged to report to prosecutors when they decide to open or close investigations or place a suspect under arrest, according to a copy of the bill.

"Anyway, the supreme authority in these matters already belongs to the courts," Volkov said.

Prosecutors would have to seek court approval before intervening in an investigation conducted by the investigative committee or by detectives with the Interior Ministry or the Federal Security Service.

"Prosecutors have to make decisions related to ongoing investigations hundreds of thousands of times a year," Ilyukhin said. "The courts will choke if prosecutors have to approve these decisions in court."

The only cases that could be opened by prosecutors would be into possible crimes committed by investigative committee staff.

The bill also obliges prosecutors to disclose their incomes and property as well as the incomes and property of their family members.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has called for the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service to be stripped of their investigative powers as well and for those powers to be transferred to the investigative committee.

Chaika has remained silent on the bill, but his deputy Sabir Kekhlerov has cautioned that it contains contradictions to guidelines set out by the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

The idea of creation of an autonomous investigative agency similar to the FBI has been discussed for several years. But some proponents of such a reform criticized the bill as half-baked.

"It would have been better if the investigative committee brought together investigators from all of the law enforcement agencies," said Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer and member of the Public Chamber, Interfax reported.

"The bill is a half measure," said Polina Lupinskaya, a criminal law expert at the Institute of State and Law. "It would have made much more sense to separate the functions of investigation and prosecution in courts."