MOSCOW, June 18 President Vladimir Putin gave
his blessing on Friday to a draft law that would allow Russian
law enforcement agencies to bypass the tax authorities and
prosecute suspected tax crimes.
The proposed law would reinstate powers taken away from
federal investigators under Putin's more liberal predecessor,
Dmitry Medvedev, and follow other moves which critics say
strengthen the role of the police and security forces.
After Putin discussed the latest draft with Mikhail
Mishustin, head of the Russian Tax Service, the Kremlin press
service quoted him as saying: "Good, finish your proposal and we
will ask the Duma (lower house of parliament) to support it."
The law would revert to practices from before 2011 when a
law was introduced stipulating that the prosecution of suspected
tax offences could solely be based on documents provided by tax
authorities under legislation on taxes and levies.
In November, Putin said the tax-related clauses of the law
were ineffectual and pushed for stricter regulation. The new
draft would allow legal authorities to open an investigation
into allegations of tax evasion based on their own evidence.
The new proposal has been criticised by Medvedev who is now
prime minister, the business community and former finance
minister Alexei Kudrin, who described it as a step backwards.
Putin's opponents say he has used the Investigative
Committee for political purposes because it has opened criminal
cases against some of his biggest critics since protests began
against him at the end of 2011. The Kremlin denies this.
Mishustin told Putin the proposed legislation had been
softened to give suspected tax evaders a chance to "repent" and
pay off their arrears.
"If the taxpayer under investigation would be willing to pay
the amount of taxes as well as the penalties and interest ...
then he may avoid criminal prosecution," Mishustin told Putin.
The new version also obliges the Investigative Committee to
coordinate with the tax authorities on the size of the tax debt
owed by businessmen under investigation.
($1 = 34.3487 Russian Roubles)
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Lidia Kelly,
Editing by Timothy Heritage)