Legislative crack-down on ‘underworld codes’. Authorities shy away from ‘thief in law’ notion

Legislative crack-down on ‘underworld codes’. Authorities shy away from ‘thief in law’ notion
Presidential Plenipotentiary in the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Harry Minkh

Presidential Plenipotentiary in the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Harry Minkh asked the Duma members to choose the right words while referring to criminal ‘authorities’ and not to use “language spoken by other subcultures” during parliament discussions.

This is what the RF Presidential Envoy answered to a CPRF member Aleksey Kurinny who had asked whether ‘crowning’ of a ‘thief in law’ ought to serve as a base for his prosecution.

With that, Harry Minkh emphasized that the new bill is partially equal to the one that was passed in Georgia in 2005 under Mikhail Saakashvili. After that, the local leaders of the criminal world are believed to have moved to Russia.

After that, he issued a caveat saying Georgia’ authorities had subsequently passed another law considering organized crime and racketeering with a few explanations as to “these parties” (again, Minkh avoids using the common notion ‘thief in law’).

The Presidential Plenipotentiary noted Russia “has its own logic” which is different from Georgia.

“The current practice with regard to the application of Article 210 of the Criminal Code was analysed by the Supreme court, so we assume there’s no need in any additional bills,” Minkh stated.

On February 21, 2019, the Presidential bill on strengthening of criminal penalties for leaders of the criminal world passed the first reading by the State Duma.

The amendments to the legislation, at first sight, seem to be quite revolutionary. With that, the RF Criminal Code is being complemented with article 210.1 - Holding a senior position in criminal hierarchy. In other words, ‘thieves in law’ are expected to be sentenced to 8-15 years of imprisonment and a 5 million rubles fine ($76 thousand) just for the fact that they are leaders of organized crime groups. Actions related to participation in ‘conventions’ of organizers, leaders and other representatives of criminal communities with the purpose of committing a crime are expected to be considered different crimes. This kind of crimes is going to be punished with 12-20 years of imprisonment and up to 1 million rubles ($15 thousand) fine.

All Duma’s fractions backed the bill with one accord. However, judging by the Duma members’ questions, they backed it, but did not exactly grasp it.

While discussing the bill, the Duma members wanted to know how exactly law enforcement officials are going to identify criminal ‘authorities’ in order to send them behind bars because there’s no word on it in the bill. It was only on Sunday when the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation explained the new punishment for creation of a criminal community and its leadership is only to be faced by ‘thieves in law’ who hold this position after the amendments are on effect. So, the “generals of the criminal world” who hold a high position in the criminal hierarchy for more than a year do not face the punishment.

However, the Presidential Plenipotentiary, in his reply, was non-specific on the issue. Minkh referred to the Resolution of the Plenum of the Supreme court as of June 10, 2010 #12. This document, among other things, explains what exactly can be taken as heading of a criminal community, its leader’s functions; possible ways of heading of a criminal community are also listed therein.

Minkh says the identification of ‘thieves in law’ is going to be carried out on the basis of “a set of circumstances.” No additional bills are being expected, so far, however, in case judges’ recommendations do not help, amendments are not an exception in the future.

“We will always have a complex evaluation. All the information that we receive is going to confirm a certain person is a leader of a criminal community,” Minkh said.

The CPRF believes this bill should not be overestimated. The party’s representative Yury Sinelshchikov proposed to return to a Soviet way of combatting organized crime when there was a notion of an especially dangerous recidivist that allowed a strict control.

Judging by statements by other Duma members, they have less notion of life and laws of the criminal world and are not capable of proposing any effective ways for combatting it. Nevertheless, parliamentarians consider the innovation a legislative crack-down on ‘underworld codes’. This, in particular, was stated by a United Russia member Adalby Shkhagoshev.

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