The first day of a Moscow conference bringing together top law enforcement officials from the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries with their Russian counterparts ended yesterday, with U.S. attorney Janet Reno saying that she was “very gratified” by assurances she received from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that his government will push for an anti-moneylaundering law (Russian agencies, October 19).
The State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, passed such legislation back in June, but President Boris Yeltsin vetoed it, arguing that it violated Russia’s constitution. Some of Yeltsin’s toughest critics even conceded that it would give dangerously wide scope to law enforcement. For example, during his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Banking Committee last month, Yuri Shchekochikhin, a member of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma, said that communist members of the Duma had insisted that the law use the term “unlawful income” rather than “criminal income.” This, in Shchekochikhin’s words, could give the police the grounds to arrest “some babushka who’s selling flowers at a metro stop.” Later in the summer, faced with bad publicity from the allegations of money laundering through the Bank of New York and Kremlin corruption, Yeltsin ordered Putin to work with the Duma on a compromise version of the bill. Earlier this month, Putin said that his cabinet and the legislators were setting up a conciliatory commission to work on the problem (Moscow Times, October 2; Russian agencies, October 4).
Other Western officials attending the Moscow law enforcement conference also praised the attitude of their Russian counterparts: British Senior Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said he was pleasantly surprised by Putin’s promise to “block completely” the sources of money laundering in Russia (Moscow Times, October 20).
…BUT WILLINGNESS TO FIGHT IS QUESTIONABLE.