Russian MPs Vote To Hide Tax Returns From Public View – The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, has voted in favor of a bill that will eliminate the requirement for lawmakers to disclose their annual income and assets reports, which will greatly decrease transparency. As of March 1st, information about Russian lawmakers’ income declarations will no longer be publicly available in a way that allows for identification of the lawmakers.
Lawmakers will still be obliged to submit their declarations to the tax authorities every year and a summary will be released based on this information. “This is about the protection of personal data,” one lawmaker, Pavel Krasheninnikov, was quoted as saying on the Duma website. The bill was approved on its third and final readings on Wednesday. It must still be approved by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, and signed into law by the president, Vladimir Putin – usually a formality.
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“De facto, we are returning to the Soviet model of fighting corruption, which should only involve law enforcement,” the political scientist Alexei Makarkin told the Kommersant newspaper on Monday. In December, Russian President Putin issued a decree eliminating the need for officials to disclose their income and assets during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Russia ranked 136th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2021 corruption perceptions index.
On the same day, a Moscow court ordered the shutdown of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a well-respected human rights organization. The judge with the Moscow city court granted a justice ministry request to dissolve the rights group, the court announced in a statement. The Moscow Helsinki Group said it would appeal against the decision. It is the latest in a series of legal rulings against organisations critical of the Kremlin, a trend that intensified after Putin sent troops into Ukraine last year.
The Moscow Helsinki Group was created in 1976 when Russia was part of the Soviet Union and had been considered Russia’s oldest rights group. For decades, it was headed by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident who became a symbol of resistance in Russia and who died in 2018. When Alexeyeva – the doyenne of Russia’s rights movement – celebrated her 90th birthday, Putin visited her at home, bringing her flowers.
“I am grateful to you for everything that you have done for a huge number of people in our country for many, many years,” Putin told her at the time. The justice ministry had accused the rights group of breaching its legal status by carrying out activities such as observing trials outside the Moscow region. Before Putin sent troops to Ukraine, Russia dissolved another pillar of the country’s rights movement, Memorial.
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That group emerged as a symbol of hope during Russia’s chaotic transition to democracy in the early 1990s and was co-awarded the Nobel peace prize less than a year after it was ordered to shut down. The Russian government has been using an array of laws to stifle critics, for example imposing prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading “false information” about the military. Most top opposition figures are either in prison or exiled.