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News : Global Economy Last Updated: Aug 12, 2013 - 5:30 AM

Russia has more than 110,000 small business owners in jail
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Aug 9, 2013 - 9:37 AM

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Vladimir Putin, Russian president, meets Yury Chaika, prosecutor general, at the Kremlin, Moscow, August 08, 2013

Russia has more than 110,000 people serving time for what the state calls “economic crimes,” out of a population of about three million self-employed people and owners of small and medium-size businesses. An additional 2,500 are in jails awaiting trial for this class of crimes that includes fraud, but can also include embezzlement, counterfeiting and tax evasion, according to The New York Times.

In 2010, the police investigated a total of 276,435 “economic crimes” and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the onetime billionaire founder of the Yukos Oil company, is the most well-known economic crimes prisoner.

When Vladimir Putin became president of the Russian Federation in 2000, he told the so-called oligarchs - - the businessmen who made huge fortunes from the firesale disposal of state assets in the 1990's - - that he would not cause trouble for them if the kept out of politics. However, Khodorkovsky provided financial support to opposition political groups and he has been in prison since 2003.

Last month, Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and prominent anti-corruption blogger, was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of embezzlement.

He was found guilty of heading a group that embezzled 16m rubles (€363,700) of timber from state-owned company Kirovles in 2009 while he worked as an unpaid adviser to the provincial governor in Kirov, about 470 miles east of Moscow.

On his blog, Navalny called the ruling United Russia "the party of crooks and thieves," which has become a popular slogan.

The Times of London reports from Moscow Friday:

"THE front-page article in the respected Russian business daily Vedomosti was small but its significance was unmistakable.

Thirty-five internet chief executives and successful entrepreneurs, it declared, had signed a "social contract" providing financial and logistical backing to Alexei Navalny - the most charismatic opposition politician in Russia - in his attempt to unseat the Kremlin-backed incumbent and be elected mayor of Moscow next month.

It is the first time business leaders have dared to openly back an anti-establishment candidate in such a high-profile Russian election since Vladimir Putin crushed the power of the oligarchs 10 years ago by jailing Mikhail Khodorkovsky."

Daniel Yergin, who is best known for books on the oil industry, writes in The Wall Street Journal today on the end of China's commodity demand boom: [Though it was summertime, a tinge of ice was in the June air at this year's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. "There is no magic wand we can wave," said Russian President Vladimir Putin, acknowledging the abrupt drop in Russia's growth rate. "Prices for our main exports rose fast" for many years, he told the forum, but now "the situation has changed. There are no magic solutions."]

Russia's GDP (gross domestic product) contracted 0.07% in the first quarter of 2013 over the previous quarter.

The Times says Putin has devised a plan for turning things around: offer amnesty to some of the imprisoned business people.

“This can be understood in the Russian context,” Boris Titov, Putin’s ombudsman for entrepreneurs’ rights, said of what is, even by the standards of the global recession, a highly unusual stimulus effort.

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