Putin backs amnesty for white collar crime

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday a bill had been drafted that would grant an amnesty to white-collar criminals, calling on lawmakers to pass the legislation in the coming weeks.

"Work on the draft bill on an amnesty has been completed by the business community and deputies of the State Duma. I can agree with this draft, and I ask the State Duma to review it and support it," Putin said in an address at the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum.

"I expect that this will be done quickly, before the summer recess," which starts July 5, he added.

Putin said the measure would cover only those who committed business-related crimes for the first time and not be applied to repeat offenders.

The announcement suggests that the measure would not touch Russia's jail former oil tycoon and repeated Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- now in prison serving his second consecutive sentence for white collar crimes he disputes.

Putin's announcement comes as something of a surprise because he had said as recently as April that the proposed amnesty legislation was too broad and still in need of a lot of work.

The amnesty has been heavily backed by Russia's business community as well as human rights figures who argue that bureaucrats use complex laws to hound entrepreneurs and jail those who refuse to pay heavy bribes.

Putin said the legislation "will help strengthen citizens' trust in state institutions. And this can only happen when there is respect to private property and business."

He stressed however that the law should not cover heavy offenders such as those who engage in so called "raids" on their competitors with the illegal help of law enforcement agencies.

Putin added that the amnesty would not cover those found guilty of counterfeiting or crimes involving violence.