Kremlin, Moscow. Picture: MICHAEL PARULAVA/UNSPLASH
Kremlin, Moscow. Picture: MICHAEL PARULAVA/UNSPLASH

Moscow — The Russian parliament took a key step on Tuesday towards passing legislation making it easier to jail crime bosses, in a Kremlin-sponsored attempt to crack down on hugely powerful elite mobsters.

The bill, submitted to parliament by President Vladimir Putin and approved in its crucial second reading, puts special focus on the punishment of top crime bosses, and toughens responsibility for organising and leading criminal syndicates.

“The bill will allow for the prosecution of crime bosses,” said the speaker of parliament’s lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin. “It is pretty difficult to do it now.”

According to various estimates, there are between 200 and 400 crime bosses in Russia, known as “Vory v Zakone”, or “Thieves in Law”. Many of them are originally from Georgia.

The Thieves in Law emerged in the Soviet-era gulags and became particularly powerful after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The amendment, which is expected to sail through a final reading later this week, allows for the prosecution of criminals if they admit to their status or are informed on by others. It carries punishments of up to 15 years in prison.

Otari Arshba, an MP  with the ruling United Russia party, said the key change in the legislation would be a provision making “the simple fact of being in charge of a criminal organisation enough” to convict crime bosses.

“A significant number of crime bosses have gathered in Russia and their main mission is to criminalise society at large,” said Arshba, who has championed the bill, before the vote.

“This should have been nipped in the bud a long time ago but there was no instrument.”

In the past, Russia-based mob bosses were often able to avoid prosecution by limiting their direct involvement in criminal acts.

After the adoption of similar legislation in Georgia in 2005 soon after Mikheil Saakashvili came to power dozens of crime bosses left for Russia and Europe.

In Russia, top criminal bosses came under pressure after Putin came to power there in 1999 on promises to end the lawlessness of the previous decade.
AFP