Glimmer of hope for Russia's jailed entrepreneurs

Tue Jul 9, 2013 11:57am EDT
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By Megan Davies

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Sergei Bobylyov once ran a successful chain of computer shops in Russia called Sunrise. Now, the 43-year-old father of two is serving nine years for fraud in a case his family blames on a corrupt legal system abused by people out to steal his business.

His wife and daughters hope though that a six-month amnesty for jailed entrepreneurs, ordered by President Vladimir Putin and signed into law by parliament last week, will set him free.

"We hope very much that the amnesty gives us a chance to free Sergei," said Bobylyov's wife, Oksana. "The amnesty will work for only six months. It is a very short period."

More than 100,000 businessmen, many of whom are innocent, are in prison or face criminal proceedings, according to Boris Titov, hired in 2012 by Putin to protect entrepreneurs' rights.

Under the amnesty, between 3,000 and 10,000 people may be freed, according to official and lobby group estimates.

Critics point out that the amnesty fails to address corruption or tackle flaws in the legal system. Lengthy jail terms are too often handed down in cases that should be settled by civil suits and judges are too easily bought, with some publishing verdicts direct from the prosecutor's charge sheet - including spelling mistakes, they say.

They also say Putin tailored the amnesty to keep political opponents, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky in particular, behind bars.

Calling it "an act of humanity", Putin announced the amnesty to applause from investors at an investor conference in St Petersburg last month, saying it was vital to create a more business-friendly environment in Russia.   Continued...

Businessman Sergei Bobylyov poses for a picture at his office in Moscow, March 10, 2009. REUTERS/Oksana Bobylyova