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Russia lower house approves bill to ban pre-trial detention for financial crimes

[JURIST] The Russian State Duma [official website, in Russian] on Wednesday approved a bill [text, DOC, in Russian; bill history, in Russian] to ban pre-trial detention for suspects accused of economic crimes. The legislation would allow those charged with financial crimes to be bailed out of jail [RIA Novosti report] at any time during legal proceedings for a minimum bail charge of 100,000 rubles (USD $3,300), and 500,000 rubles (USD $16,600) for serious crimes. The bill was introduced [RIA Novosti report] earlier this month by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website, in Russian], who said that the measure would help cut the prison population and would also prevent prison from being used to pressure businessmen. The bill's introduction was welcomed [press release] by the lawyer for Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive], who was denied bail in 2003. The bill must now be approved by the upper house of parliament, the Federation Council [official website, in Russian].

Khodorkovsky recently criticized [JURIST report] the Russian justice system as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty. Both he and former business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are serving time on tax evasion and fraud charges, but Lebedev successfully challenged [JURIST report] the legality of his arrest and was awarded USD $14,300 in damages and legal fees by the European Court of Human Rights. The two are currently on trial on additional related charges of money laundering and embezzlement, to which they have pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports]. Some critics of the Russian government have argued that the charges against Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are politically motivated [JURIST op-ed] due to Khodorkovsky's opposition to former Russian president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive].

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