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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Duma Signs Off on Investigative Committee

Despite criticism from opposition deputies and a government official, the State Duma on Friday signed off on the creation of a semi-autonomous agency aimed at improving the oversight of criminal investigations.

The Duma voted in a final third reading to have the investigative powers of prosecutors concentrated in the new agency. The bill, drafted by three former police officials, was approved 319 to 68 with three abstentions. Communists unanimously opposed the bill, saying it would destroy official oversight.

The bill creates an investigative committee within the Prosecutor General's Office and the offices of the regional and municipal prosecutors whose staff will focus solely on investigating crime.

Bill co-author Alexander Moskalets of United Russia said before the vote that it was important to place some kind of wall between the prosecutors who fight cases in court and the investigators who now work in the same offices.

"And then we are surprised to learn how few acquittals we have in courts," he said, Gazeta reported.

But Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, a former prosecutor who spearheaded opposition to the bill in the Duma, said some provisions of the bill would destroy official oversight and violate the constitutional principle of unity in the prosecutor's office.

Currently, if a supervising prosecutor needs to cancel what he sees as the illegal decision of an investigator -- such as an illegal seizure of evidence -- he can do so on his own and immediately. The bill would oblige prosecutors in such cases to turn to the heads of their local investigative committee for approval. If approval is not granted, overseeing prosecutors could appeal to court.

"Every year prosecutors overturn about 3 million wrong decisions by investigators. Imagine that in half of the cases investigators will not cooperate. Our courts will be choked with cases," Ilyukhin said. He promised to turn to the Constitutional Court if the bill is approved by the Federation Council and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

The government's liaison to the Federation Council, lawyer Mikhail Barshchevsky, also criticized the bill Friday, calling it "vague and inconsistent."

"The issues of criminal responsibility and the personal freedom of a person will remain within one agency, the Prosecutor General's Office," he said in a statement carried by Interfax. "It still opens cases, investigates them, and argues them in courts."

The bill says that the investigative committee is to be created before the end of this year.