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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Russian FBI -- In Theory

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A powerful new agency, the Investigative Committee, has been created to operate alongside the Prosecutor General's Office. The head of the committee will have broad powers, operate independently of the prosecutor general and, like the prosecutor general, be appointed directly by the Federation Council on the president's recommendation. The committee's chief can even initiate proceedings against the prosecutor general, but not the other way around.

The idea for an investigative agency separate from the prosecutor's office, something like the FBI in the United States, has been kicking around for a long time. A few years ago, Dmitry Kozak got the ball rolling as a member of the presidential administration, but political conditions at the time brought it to a halt. The prosecutor general at the time, Vladimir Ustinov, was in the middle of the Yukos investigation -- a project he was keeping for himself. His office was becoming increasingly active in politics, not to mention the federal and regional economies. Ustinov's ultimate transfer to the Justice Ministry, therefore, seemed to signal a reform.

Judging from events, however, the new prosecutor general, Yury Chaika, got a bit jealous. His report to President Vladimir Putin last week on successful investigations into a range of high-profile crimes -- including the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya -- demonstrated his need to prove his own importance.

A good deal of authority has been shifted from the Prosecutor General's Office to the Investigative Committee. Now criminal proceedings against senior government officials and State Duma deputies will be conducted not by the prosecutor general, but by the chief of the committee. The prosecutor has been stripped of its right to oversee interrogations, property seizures and the establishment of pretrial restrictions. Now the committee has exclusive authority to initiate criminal proceedings.

The prosecutor general does, however, retain the authority to call for inquiries and to issue instructions on their execution. But investigators, who used to have to get the go-ahead from the prosecutor general before applying to a court for an arrest warrant, can now just go straight to the judge.

In the political sense, the Prosecutor General's Office has been sidelined. Its functions have been curtailed, and it has been eclipsed by a competing agency. A number of other law enforcement agencies, however, remain active in the political arena. The Interior Ministry retains the authority to conduct investigations, as do the Federal Security Service and the Federal Drug Control Service. So the potential for conflict between these powerful agencies, which have developed a kind of corporate interest, remains. Given the drastic increase in the influence each has wielded in political and economic spheres in recent years, the stakes for which they are playing are only likely to continue growing.

This "corporation" has created internal system of checks and balances, but is not subject to any external control -- public, parliamentary or otherwise. It may be fragmented, and thus little threat to the authorities, but the lack of accountability makes it a greater threat to the general public.

The fact that the Investigative Committee did not turn out as the robust body initially proposed by Kozak suggests that there will be no real change in the balance between the investigative and prosecutorial functions.

There were once high hopes that taking prosecutors out of the loop would make the process less arbitrary. But the system introduced two years ago, where a court must grant an arrest warrant, has simply turned the courts into a rubber stamp for investigators, thus bringing them into the corporate fold.

We will see whether the same kind of tight bonds develop among investigators, the Prosecutor General's Office and the courts -- all of whom are officially supposed to be independent in Russia, as they are elsewhere. Here, of course, such independence always comes at a price.

Georgy Bovt is a Moscow-based political analyst.