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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Justice Minister Decries Corruption, Pushes Reforms

Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov said Monday that the country's prison system is rife with corruption and that prison workers are supplementing meager salaries by extracting bribes from the incarcerated.

Corruption in the Federal Prison Service is in "full bloom," with poorly paid prison personnel taking bribes in exchange for early paroles, meetings with friends and relatives and arranging transfers to different facilities, Konovalov told a news conference.

“The work that [prison authorities] are doing is not the most pleasant, and many of them deserve to have monuments erected to them during the life time," Konovalov said. "But there is no black or white, because many of those people are also involved in corruption."

Konovalov, a protege of President Dmitry Medvedev, has publicly spoken of the need to weed out corruption and abuses in the country's justice system. He has backed legislation allowing for house arrest rather than jail for suspected petty offenders, as well as the abolition of pretrial detention for white-collar crimes.

The prison service, which falls under the auspices of the Justice Ministry, has faced increasing criticism since the November death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pretrial detention at a Moscow jail.

Konovalov on Monday addressed the case of Magnitsky, who worked as outside counsel for the investment fund Hermitage Capital, which has had numerous conflicts with law enforcement authorities in recent years.

Hermitage claims that Magnitsky was jailed as retribution for uncovering massive theft of state funds by powerful law enforcement officials. His friends and family say prison authorities and investigators ignored his deteriorating health and denied him proper medical care, resulting in his death of heart failure at age 37.

“The state is taking certain steps to ensure that the situation with Magnitsky will never be repeated,” Konovalov said.
 
Addressing the government minister later Monday, Konovalov called the prison system's legal basis "seriously outdated."


Konovalov told reporters that a drive for reforms in the justice system is linked to Russia's recent ratification of Protocol 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which would allow the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to consider a backlog of complaints, many from Russia.

Many Russians see the Strasbourg court as their last hope to find justice after losing battles in domestic courts. The Strasbourg court has criticized Russia for delaying payments of compensation to victims, which Russia is required to do as a signatory to the convention on human rights.

Konovalov said a law regulating these payouts will be sent to the State Duma for consideration next month, promising that money awarded in domestic courts will be "a bit smaller" than in the European court but higher than current payouts.

“The standards of Russian justice should come close to the standards of European [justice],” Konovalov said.

The Justice Ministry has also drafted a bill on compensation for the victims of counterterrorist operations, though Konovalov said he expects resistance from the Finance Ministry over the size of the awarded sums.