* Russian leader seeks to 'de-offshore' the economy
* Putin bill less strict than lower-house version
* Would allow foreign accounts at Russian-owned banks
By Katya Golubkova and Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW, Feb 12 President Vladimir Putin has
submitted a bill to Russia's parliament aimed at preventing
officials stashing illicit wealth abroad, seeking to make good
on a pledge to crack down on corruption and stem capital flight.
But the text, published on Tuesday, is weaker than one
already proposed by the State Duma, the lower house, which
unlike Putin's bill would not allow apparatchiks to own property
abroad or to open foreign bank accounts.
In his first annual address to the nation since returning to
the Kremlin for a third presidential term, Putin called in
December for "a whole system of measures to 'de-offshore' our
The legislative initiative seeks to take the wind out of the
sails of election protesters who rallied around slogans
denouncing "swindlers and thieves" around Putin as he campaigned
for the presidential election last March.
Russia has suffered annual net capital outflows of around
$80 billion in recent years, much of which has been driven by
officials shifting money abroad, say anti-corruption activists.
Russia ranks 133rd, alongside Honduras and Guyana, out of
174 states in Transparency International's 2012 Corruption
Perception Index. It is under international scrutiny as it
chairs the Group of 20 nations this year and has pledged to push
forward the economic forum's anti-corruption agenda.
The bills are intended to apply to senior state and regional
officials, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, executives at
state-owned companies and members of the central bank board.
THE PRICE OF LOYALTY
But Putin's draft stops short of stringent measures that
could alienate the loyalists whom he relies on to uphold the
'vertical' power structure he has built up since first rising to
Russia's highest office in 2000.
By allowing officials to open foreign accounts only through
Russian banks, Putin's bill could benefit the state banks VTB
and Sberbank, which have subsidiaries in
several European countries.
Sberbank's head German Gref has lobbied for easier rules.
"This is a kind of a loophole that would make it possible to
finance real estate investments abroad but under tighter control
with better transparency," said Oleg Vyugin, a former Russian
financial market regulator who now advises Morgan Stanley.
Putin's ruling party holds a secure majority over the
chamber, but the fact that he has submitted his own version
reflects Kremlin concern that the Duma version is too harsh.
Deputy Speaker Sergey Zheleznyak was quoted by the Interfax
news agency as saying that Putin's proposal, while allowing
ownership of property abroad, would require this to be properly
That, say lawmakers and bankers, could lead to a compromise
being passed that would put the onus on declaring personal
wealth without unduly affecting officials who lead increasingly
If an official, their spouse or children who are minors
violate the law, that official would lose his or her job,
according to Putin's draft.
After the law enters force, affected officials would have
three months to close overseas accounts at foreign-owned banks
and sell their investments in foreign stocks and bonds.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said trusts would also be
covered by the ban. Offshore trusts often make it possible to
conceal the identity of an investment's beneficial owner.