The Russian Federation continued to implement regulatory reforms in 2018, allowing Russia to climb four notches to 31st place out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Report. However, fundamental structural problems in its governance of the economy, in addition to Western sanctions, continue to stifle foreign direct investment throughout Russia. In particular, Russia’s judicial system remains heavily biased in favor of the state, leaving investors with little recourse in legal disputes with the government. Despite on-going anticorruption efforts, high levels of corruption among government officials compound this risk. In February 2019, a prominent U.S. investor was arrested and jailed over a commercial dispute. Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program gives local producers advantages over foreign competitors that do not meet localization requirements. Finally, Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea in 2014, interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 2018 poisoning of Sergey and Yuliya Skripal, and other malign activities, have resulted in EU and U.S. sanctions – restricting business activities and increasing costs.
U.S. investors in Russia must ensure full compliance with U.S. sanctions. The primary sanctions levied against Russia include the SDN (Specially Designated Nationals) lists, targeting persons or entities involved with Russian malign activity; the Sectoral Sanctions list, targeting entities in the Russian energy, defense and financial sectors; and Chemical and Biological Weapon Act sanctions. Additionally, there are Russian sanctions related to human rights violations (Magnitsky Act), malicious cyber activity, North Korea, Syria, and weapons proliferation. Further information on the U.S. sanctions program is available at the U.S. Treasury’s website: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/ukraine.aspx. U.S. investors can also utilize the “Consolidated Screening List” search tool at https://www.export.gov/csl-search to check sanctions and control lists from the Departments of Treasury, State, and Commerce as a part of comprehensive due diligence in the Russian market.
The Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI) has played an important role in improving Russia’s investment climate, and its system of ranking Russian regions, has spurred local authorities to improve their regions’ investment climates. ASI’s ranking system is available at https://asi.ru/investclimate/rating/. As regions compete for foreign investment, local authorities have substantially reduced local regulations, and in 2018, 78 Russian regions improved their Regional Investment Climate Index scores.
Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (SSL) establishes an approval process for foreign investments resulting in a controlling stake in one of Russia’s 46 “strategic sectors.” Amendments to the SSL, approved in 2017, expanded its purview to include offshore companies and their subsidiaries, in addition to foreign states, international organizations, and their subsidiaries. In May 2018, amendments to Federal Law No. 160-FZ “On Foreign Investments in the Russian Federation” replaced the “offshore company” category of the SSL with the category of “non-disclosing investor” (i.e. an investor not disclosing the information on its beneficiaries, beneficial owners, and controlling persons). The new amendments superseded the special regulation of offshore companies introduced in 2017 and provided a new concept of “companies, which do not disclose information on their beneficiaries, beneficiary owners, and controlling persons.” In December 2015, Russia amended the federal law “On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation,” giving the Russian Constitutional Court authority to disregard verdicts by international bodies, including investment arbitration bodies, if it determines the ruling contradicts the Russian constitution.
The Russian government has since 2015 had an incentive program for foreign investors called Special Investment Contracts (SPICs). SPICs offered foreign investors who concluded contracts eligibility for preferential customs treatment, opportunity to compete for government sole-source contracts, and incentives. These contracts, generally negotiated with and signed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, allow foreign companies to participate in Russia’s import substitution programs by providing access to certain subsidies to foreign producers who established local production. In 2018, the Industry and Trade Ministry tabled draft legislative amendments introducing the “SPIC 2.0” mechanism. SPIC 2.0, which is expected to be launched in 2019, will only be available to firms that introduce new technologies not currently available in Russia.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||138 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2018||31 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||46 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2017||$13.881||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$9,239||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
While the Russian government at all levels offers moderately transparent policies, actual implementation can also be inconsistent. Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program often leads to burdensome regulations that can give domestic producers a financial advantage over foreign competitors. Draft bills and regulations are made available for public comments in accordance with disclosure rules set forth in the Government Resolution 851 of 2012.
Key regulatory actions are published on a centralized web site: www.pravo.gov.ru. The web site maintains regulatory documents that are enacted or about to be enacted. Draft regulatory laws are published on the web site www.regulation.gov.ru. Draft laws that do not fall under Resolution 851 can be found on the State Duma (Russia’s parliament) legal database: http://asozd.duma.gov.ru/ .
Accounting procedures are generally transparent and consistent. Documents compliant with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), however, are usually provided only by businesses that interface with foreign markets or borrow from foreign lenders. Reports prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for the consolidated financial statements of all entities who meet the following criteria: entities whose securities are listed on stock exchanges; banks and other credit institutions, insurance companies (except those with activities limited to obligatory medical insurance); non-governmental pension funds; management companies of investment and pension funds; and clearing houses. Additionally, certain state-owned companies are required to prepare consolidated IFRS financial statements by separate decrees of the Russian government. Russian Accounting Standards, which are largely based on international best practices, otherwise apply.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a member of the EAEU, Russia has delegated certain decision-making authority to the EAEU’s supranational executive body, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC). In particular, the EEC has the lead on concluding trade agreements with third countries, customs tariffs (on imports), and technical regulations. EAEU agreements and EEC decisions establish basic principles that are implemented by the member states at the national level through domestic laws, regulations, and other measures involving goods. EAEU agreements and EEC decisions also cover trade remedy determinations, establishment and administration of special economic and industrial zones, and the development of technical regulations. The EAEU Treaty establishes the priority of WTO rules in the EAEU legal framework. Authority to set sanitary and phytosanitary standards remains at the individual country level.
U.S. companies cite technical regulations and related product-testing and certification requirements as major obstacles to U.S. exports of industrial and agricultural goods to Russia. Russian authorities require product testing and certification as a key element of the approval process for a variety of products, and, in many cases, only an entity registered and residing in Russia can apply for the necessary documentation for product approvals. Consequently, opportunities for testing and certification performed by competent bodies outside Russia are limited. Manufacturers of telecommunications equipment, oil and gas equipment, and construction materials and equipment, in particular, have reported serious difficulties in obtaining product approvals within Russia. Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) issues have also arisen with alcoholic beverages, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices.
Russia joined the WTO in 2012. Although Russia has notified the WTO of numerous technical regulations, it appears to be taking a narrow view regarding the types of measures that require notification. In 2017-2018, Russia submitted 12 notifications under the WTO TBT Agreement. However, they may not reflect the full set of technical regulations that require notification under the WTO TBT Agreement. A full list of notifications is available at: http://www.epingalert.org/en
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The U.S. Embassy advises any foreign company operating in Russia to have competent legal counsel and create a comprehensive plan on steps to take in case the police carry out an unexpected raid. Russian authorities have exhibited a pattern of transforming civil cases into criminal matters, resulting in significantly more severe penalties. In short, unfounded lawsuits or arbitrary enforcement actions remain an ever-present possibility for any company operating in Russia.
Critics contend that Russian courts in general lack independent authority and, in criminal cases, have a bias toward conviction. In practice, the presumption of innocence tends to be ignored by Russian courts, and less than one-half of a percent of criminal cases end in acquittal. In cases that are appealed when the lower court decision resulted in a conviction, less than one percent are overturned. In contrast, when the lower court decision is “not guilty,” 37 percent of the appeals result in a finding of guilt.
Russia has a civil law system, and the Civil Code of Russia governs contracts. Specialized commercial courts (also called arbitrage courts) handle a wide variety of commercial disputes. Russia was ranked by the World Bank’s 2019 Doing Business Report as 18th in terms of contract enforcement, unchanged from 2018.
Commercial courts are required by law to decide business disputes efficiently, and many cases are decided on the basis of written evidence, with little or no live testimony by witnesses. The courts’ workload is dominated by relatively simple cases involving the collection of debts and firms’ disputes with the taxation and customs authorities, pension fund, and other state organs. Tax-paying firms often prevail in their disputes with the government in court. The volume of routine cases limits the time available for the courts to decide more complex cases. The court system has special procedures for the seizure of property before trial to prevent its disposal before the court has heard the claim, as well as procedures for the enforcement of financial awards through the banks. As with some international arbitral procedures, the weakness in the Russian arbitration system lies in the enforcement of decisions; few firms pay judgments against them voluntarily.
A specialized court for intellectual property (IP) disputes was established in 2013. The IP Court hears matters pertaining to the review of decisions made by the Russian Federal Service for Intellectual Property (Rospatent) and determines issues of IP ownership, authorship, and the cancellation of trademark registrations. It also serves as the court of second appeal for IP infringement cases decided in commercial courts and courts of appeal.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The 1991 Investment Code and 1999 Law on Foreign Investment (160-FZ) guarantee that foreign investors enjoy rights equal to those of Russian investors, although some industries have limits on foreign ownership (see separate section on “Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment”). Russia’s Special Investment Contract program, launched in 2015, aims to increase investment in Russia by offering tax incentives and simplified procedures for dealings with the government. In addition, a new law on public-private-partnerships (224-FZ) took effect January 1, 2016. The legislation allows an investor to acquire ownership rights over a property. In previous approaches to public-private-partnerships, the public authority retained ownership rights. The aforementioned SSL regulates foreign investments in “strategic” companies. Amendments to Federal Law No. 160-FZ “On Foreign Investments in the Russian Federation” and Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (SSL), signed by the President into law in May 2018, liberalized access of foreign investments to strategic sectors of the Russian economy and made the strategic clearance process clearer and more comfortable. The new concept is more investor-friendly, since applying a stricter regime can now potentially be avoided by providing the required beneficiary and controlling person information. In addition, the amendments expressly envisage a right for the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia (FAS) to issue official clarifications on the nature and application of the SSL that may facilitate law enforcement.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) implements antimonopoly laws and is responsible for overseeing matters related to the protection of competition. Russia’s fourth and most recent anti-monopoly legislative package, which took effect January 2016, introduced a number of changes to this law. Changes include limiting the criteria under which an entity could be considered “dominant,” broadening the scope of transactions subject to FAS approval, and reducing government control over transactions involving natural monopolies. Over the past several years, FAS has opened a number of cases involving American companies.
In addition, FAS has claimed the authority to regulate intellectual property, arguing that monopoly rights conferred by ownership of intellectual property should not extend to the “circulation of goods,” a point supported by the Russian Supreme Court. The fifth anti-monopoly legislative package, devoted to regulating the digital economy, has been developed by the FAS and is currently undergoing an interagency approval process.
Expropriation and Compensation
The 1991 Investment Code prohibits the nationalization of foreign investments, except following legislative action and when such action is deemed to be in the public interest. Acts of nationalization may be appealed to Russian courts, and the investor must be adequately and promptly compensated for the taking. At the sub-federal level, expropriation has occasionally been a problem, as well as local government interference and a lack of enforcement of court rulings protecting investors.
Despite legislation prohibiting the nationalization of foreign investments, investors in Russia – particularly minority-share investors in domestically-owned energy companies – are encouraged to exercise caution. Russia has a history of indirectly expropriating companies through “creeping” and informal means, often related to domestic political disputes. Some examples of recent cases include: 1) The privately owned oil company Bashneft was nationalized and then “privatized” in 2016 through its sale to the government-owned oil giant Rosneft without a public tender; 2) In the Yukos case, the Russian government used questionable tax and legal proceedings to ultimately gain control of the assets of a large Russian energy company; 3) Russian businesspeople reportedly often face criminal prosecution over commercial disputes. In February 2018, a prominent U.S. investor was jailed over a commercial dispute. Other, more general examples include foreign companies being pressured into selling their Russia-based assets at below-market prices. Foreign investors, particularly minority investors, have little legal recourse in such instances.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Russia is party to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. While Russia does not have specific legislation providing for enforcement of the New York Convention, Article 15 of the Constitution specifies that “the universally recognized norms of international law and international treaties and agreements of the Russian Federation shall be a component part of [Russia’s] legal system. If an international treaty or agreement of the Russian Federation fixes other rules than those envisaged by law, the rules of the international agreement shall be applied.” Russia is a signatory but not a party, and never ratified the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID).
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Available information indicates that at least 14 investment disputes have involved a U.S. person and the Russian Government since 2006. Some attorneys refer international clients who have investment or trade disputes in Russia to international arbitration centers, such as Paris, Stockholm, London, or The Hague. A 1997 Russian law allows foreign arbitration awards to be enforced in Russia, even if there is no reciprocal treaty between Russia and the country where the order was issued, in accordance with the New York Convention. Russian law was amended in 2015 to give the Russian Constitutional Court authority to disregard verdicts by international bodies if it determines the ruling contradicts the Russian constitution.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
In addition to the court system, Russian law recognizes alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms, i.e. domestic arbitration, international arbitration and mediation. Civil and commercial disputes may be referred to either domestic or international commercial arbitration. Institutional arbitration is more common in Russia than ad hoc arbitration.
Arbitral awards can be enforced in Russia pursuant to international treaties, such as the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the 1958 New York Convention, and the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration, as well as domestic legislation.
Mediation mechanisms were established by the Law on Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure with participation of the Intermediary in January 2011. Mediation is an informal extrajudicial dispute resolution method whereby a mediator seeks mutually acceptable resolution. However, mediation is not yet widely used in Russia.
Russia established a law providing for enterprises bankruptcy in the early 1990s. A law on personal bankruptcy came into force in 2015. Russia’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Report for “Resolving Insolvency” is 55 out of 190 economies. In accordance with Article 9 of the Law on Insolvency (Bankruptcy), the management of an insolvent firm must petition the court of arbitration to declare the company bankrupt within one month of failing to pay the bank’s claims. The court will institute a supervisory procedure and will appoint a temporary administrator. The administrator will convene the first creditors’ meeting, at which creditors will decide whether to petition the court for liquidation or reorganization.
In accordance with Article 51 of the Law on Insolvency (Bankruptcy), a bankruptcy case must be considered within seven months of the day the petition was received by the arbitral court.
Liquidation proceedings by law are limited to six months and can be extended by six more months (art. 124 of the Law on Insolvency (Bankruptcy). Therefore, the time dictated by law is 19 months. However, in practice, liquidation proceedings are extended several times and for longer periods.
Total cost of the insolvency proceedings can be approximately nine percent of the value of the estate, including: fees of attorneys, fees of the temporary insolvency representative for the supervisory period, fees of an insolvency representative during liquidation proceedings, payments for services of professionals hired by insolvency representatives (accountants, assessors), and other (publication of announcements, mailing fees, etc.).
In July 2017, amendments to the Law on Insolvency expanded the list of persons who may be held vicariously liable for a bankrupted entity’s debts and clarified the grounds for such liability. According to the new rules, in addition to the CEO, the following can also be held vicariously liable for a bankrupt company’s debts: top managers, including the CFO and COO, accountants, liquidators, and other persons who controlled or had significant influence over the bankrupted entity’s actions by kin or position, or could force the bankrupted entity to enter into unprofitable transactions. In addition, persons who profited from the illegal actions by management may also be subject to liability through court action. The amendments clarified that shareholders owning less than 10 percent in the bankrupt company shall not be deemed controlling, unless they are proven to have played a role in the company’s bankruptcy. The amendments also expanded the list of persons who may be subject to secondary liability and the grounds for recognizing fault for a company’s bankruptcy. This sent a warning signal to management and business owners as well as controlling persons, including financial and executive directors, accountants, auditors and even organizations responsible for maintaining the company’s records.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Russia placed 12th overall in the 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report for “registering a property,” which analyzes the “steps, time and cost involved in registering property, assuming a standardized case of an entrepreneur who wants to purchase land and a building that is already registered and free of title dispute,” as well as the “the quality of the land administration system.”
The Russian Constitution, along with a 1993 presidential decree, gives Russian citizens the right to own, inherit, lease, mortgage, and sell real property. The state owns the majority of Russian land, although the structures on the land are typically privately owned. Mortgage legislation enacted in 2004 facilitates the process for lenders to evict homeowners who do not stay current in their mortgage payments. To date, this law has been successfully implemented and is generally effective.
Intellectual Property Rights
Russia remained on the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Priority Watch List in 2019 and had several illicit streaming websites and online markets reported in the 2018 Notorious Markets List as a result of continued and significant challenges to intellectual property right (IPR) protection and enforcement. Particular areas of concern include copyright infringement, trademark counterfeiting/hard goods piracy, and non-transparent royalty collection procedures. Stakeholders reported in 2018 that IPR enforcement continued to decline overall from 2017, following similar declines in the prior several years and a reduction in resources for enforcement personnel. There were also reports that IPR protection and enforcement were not priorities for government officials.
Online piracy continues to pose a significant problem in Russia. Russia has not met a series of commitments to protect IPR in the domestic market, including commitments made to the United States as part of its World Trade Organization (WTO) accession. Although the Russian government has made strides in copyright protection, most notably with antipiracy laws and blocking internet sites hosting pirated material, film studios and other copyright-intensive industries have made no progress with copyright-violating search engine Yandex or social networks vKontakte, OK.ru, and Telegram. Amendments to the anti-piracy law aimed to block “mirror” websites came into force in October 2017 and oblige search engines, such as Google or Yandex, to withhold information about the domain name of an infringing website and any references to mirror sites of permanently blocked websites upon receiving a request from Roskomnadzor, the federal body responsible for regulating media content. Expediting the legal process remains important since these “mirrors” can appear within hours or days of a site being blocked. Industry sources estimate that obtaining a final writ of execution from a court to block permanently a “mirror” site will take around two weeks. As a result of increased scrutiny, internet companies Yandex, Mail.Ru Group, Rambler, and Rutube signed an anti-piracy memorandum with several domestic right holders on November 1, 2018. The anti-piracy memorandum will be valid until September 1, 2019, if the relevant law is not adopted by this deadline. Industry sources believe compliance is unlikely if updated legislation is not enacted.
Modest progress has been made in the area of customs IPR protection since the Federal Customs Service (FTS) can now confiscate imported goods that violate IPR. Between January and September 2018, the FTS seized 14.4 million counterfeit goods, compared with 10.1 million in 2017. The FTS prevented infringement and damages to copyright holders amounting to RUB 5.8 billion (USD 94.4 million) between January and September 2018, compared with RUB 4.5 billion (USD 77.1 million) in all of 2017. For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Russia is open to portfolio investment and has no restrictions on foreign investments. Russia’s two main stock exchanges – the Russian Trading System (RTS) and the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) – merged in December 2011. The MICEX-RTS bourse conducted an initial public offering on February 15, 2013, auctioning an 11.82 percent share.
The Russian Law on the Securities Market includes definitions of corporate bonds, mutual funds, options, futures, and forwards. Companies offering public shares are required to disclose specific information during the placement process as well as on a quarterly basis. In addition, the law defines the responsibilities of financial consultants assisting companies with stock offerings and holds them liable for the accuracy of the data presented to shareholders. In general, the Russian government respects IMF Article VIII, which it accepted in 1996.
Credit in Russia is allocated generally on market terms, and the private sector has access to a variety of credit instruments. Foreign investors can get credit on the Russian market, but interest rate differentials tend to prompt investors from developed economies to borrow on their own domestic markets when investing in Russia.
Money and Banking System
Banks make up a large share of Russia’s financial system. Although Russia had 432 licensed banks as of March 13, 2019, state-owned banks, particularly Sberbank and VTB Group, dominate the sector. The top five largest banks are state-controlled (with private Alfa Bank ranked sixth). The top five banks held 59.2 percent of all bank assets in Russia as of March 1, 2019. The role of the state in the banking sector continues to distort the competitive environment, impeding Russia’s financial sector development. At the beginning of 2019, the aggregate assets of the banking sector amounted to 91.4 percent of GDP, and aggregate capital was 9.9 percent of GDP. Russian banks reportedly operate on short time horizons, limiting capital available for long-term investments. Overall, a share of non-performing loans (NPLs) to total gross loans reached 5.5 percent as of January 1, 2019. Foreign banks are allowed to establish subsidiaries, but not branches within Russia. The Russian Central Bank and the Far East Development Ministry have proposed a number of policy initiatives aimed at creating a Regional Financial Center (RFC) in the Russian Far East. The Far East Development Ministry has drafted a bill to create the RFC that is still undergoing an interagency approval process. These proposed measures, still to be approved, include legal amendments permitting foreign bank branches in the region. Foreign businesses operating within Russia must register as a business entity in Russia.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
While the ruble is the only legal tender in Russia, companies and individuals generally face no significant difficulty in obtaining foreign currency. Only authorized banks may carry out foreign currency transactions, but finding a licensed bank is not difficult. The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) retains the right to impose restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency, including the requirement that the transaction be completed through a special account, according to Russia’s currency control laws. The CBR does not require security deposits on foreign exchange purchases. Otherwise, there are no barriers to remitting investment returns abroad, including dividends, interest, and returns of capital, apart from the fact that reporting requirements exist and failure to report in a timely fashion will result in fines. To navigate these requirements, investors should seek legal expert advice at the time of making an investment.
Currency controls also exist on all transactions that require customs clearance, which, in Russia, applies to both import and export transactions, and certain loans. As of March 1, 2018, the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) no longer requires a “transaction passport” (i.e. a document with the authorized bank through which a business receives and services a transaction) when concluding import and export contracts. The CBR also simplified the procedure to record import and export contracts, reducing the number of documents required for bank authorization. Additionally, banks are now responsible for preparing reporting documentation and keeping record of such contracts. The new instruction is an example of further liberalization of the settlement procedure for foreign trade transactions in Russia. In 2016, the CBR tightened regulations for cash currency exchanges: a client must provide his full name, passport details, registration place, date of birth, and taxpayer number, if the transaction value exceeds 15,000 rubles (approximately USD 220). In July 2016, this amount was increased to 40,000 rubles (approximately USD 606). The declared purpose of this regulation is to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
The CBR retains the right to impose restrictions on the purchase of foreign currency, including the requirement that the transaction be completed through a special account, according to Russia’s currency control laws. The CBR does not require security deposits on foreign exchange purchases. Otherwise, there are no barriers to remitting investment returns abroad, including dividends, interest, and returns of capital, apart from the fact that reporting requirements exist and failure to report in a timely fashion will result in fines. To navigate these requirements, investors should seek legal expert advice at the time of making an investment. Banking contacts confirm that investors have not had issues with remittances and in particular with repatriation of dividends.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
On February 1, 2018, Russia combined its two sovereign wealth funds, the Reserve Fund and the National Wealth Fund (NWF). These funds have a combined holding of USD 59.13 billion as of March 1, 2019. The government plans to use domestic and foreign borrowing to finance the budget deficit in 2019, while accumulating funds in the NWF. The Ministry of Finance oversees the fund’s assets, while the CBR acts as the operational manager. Russia’s Accounts Chamber (the standing body of state financial control established by Russia’s parliament) regularly audits the NWF, and the results are reported to the State Duma. The NWF is maintained in foreign currencies, and is included in Russia’s foreign currency reserves, which amounted to USD 479.3 billion as of March 8, 2019.
Despite some government efforts to combat it, the level of corruption in Russia remains high. Endemic corruption at the highest levels of government was the focus of nationwide protests in March 2017 led by one of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Anti-corruption protests continued across Russia in April 2017, days after President Vladimir Putin admitted Russia had a problem with state corruption. The protests hit the capital and several other cities, but attendance was notably smaller than in March 2017, when Russians took to the streets in droves demanding government reforms to tackle the issue. Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), ranked Russia 138 out of 180.
Russia’s CPI scores declined in 2018 to 28, down from 29 in 2015-2017. Roughly 39 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed by the Russian Chamber of Commerce in June-July 2018 said corruption declined in the preceding six months, while 9.5 percent said corruption intensified. Businesses mainly experienced corruption during applications for permits (39.2 percent), during inspections (34.5 percent), and in the procurement processes at the municipal level (30 percent).
In December 2018, Russia’s Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika reported 7,800 corruption convictions in 2018, including of 837 law enforcement officers, 63 elected officials at regional and municipal levels, and 606 federal, regional, and municipal officials. Among these corruption convictions was Sakhalin Region’s former governor, Aleksandr Horoshavin, sentenced to 13 years in prison for bribery and money laundering.
In December 2018, the Russian government awarded 46 million rubles (USD 690,000) to a private company to direct discussions on anticorruption and civil-society development across the country. During 2019, the contractor will conduct 135 events in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Crimea, and 17 regions in Russia. These will include round table discussions, lectures, seminars, forums, and conferences. The company will also conduct social polling and in-depth interviews.
Russia adopted a law in 2012 requiring individuals holding public office, state officials, municipal officials, and employees of state organizations to submit information on the funds spent by them and members of their families (spouses and underage children) to acquire certain types of property, including real estate, securities, stock, and vehicles. The law also required public servants to disclose the source of the funds for these purchases and to confirm the legality of the acquisitions. Recent anti-corruption campaigns include guidance for government employees and establishment of a legal framework for lobbying. In 2014, government plans called for an education campaign for employees and students in tertiary education on bribery and the law. In 2015, federal legislation provided a clear definition of conflict of interest as a situation in which the personal interest (direct or indirect) of an official affects or may affect the proper, objective, and impartial performance of official duties.
The 2016 anti-corruption plan, typically adopted for two years, called for anti-corruption activity in the judiciary, investigations into conflicts of interest, and increased practical cooperation between the NGO/expert community and government officials. Legislative amendments were introduced in 2017 to improve the anti-corruption climate including the creation of a registry of officials charged with corruption-related offences (entered into force on January 1, 2018). The information about the officials who were dismissed for having committed corruption-related offences will be kept in the registry for the period of five years. The employer of an official dismissed for corruption will be responsible for entering the information in the online database. The Constitutional Court gave clear guidance to law enforcement bodies on the issue of asset confiscation due to the illicit enrichment of officials. Russia has ratified the UN Convention against Corruption, but its ratification did not include article 20, which deals with illicit enrichment. The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption reported in 2016 that Russia fully complied with 11 recommendations – and partially complied with 10 – provided by this organization during the previous periodic review.
Nonetheless, the Russian government acknowledged difficulty enforcing the law effectively, and Russian officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some analysts have expressed concern that a lack of depth in the compliance culture in Russia will render Russia’s adherence to international treaties a formality that does not function in reality. The implementation and enforcement of the many measures required by these conventions have not yet been fully tested. In recent years, there appear to have been a greater number of prosecutions and convictions of mid-level bureaucrats for corruption, although real numbers were difficult to obtain. The areas of government spending that ranked highest in corruption were public procurement, media, national defense, and public utilities.
Corruption in the past was mostly associated with large construction or infrastructure projects. Russia’s Federal Security Service stated in February 2016 that RUB5 billion (USD 77 million) of defense spending was lost to corruption in 2014. In 2016, authorities brought corruption charges against three governors, one federal minister, one deputy minister, the head of Federal Customs (charges were later dropped), and the deputy head of the Federal Investigative Committee. Not one law-enforcement agency managed to avoid high-level corruption investigations in their ranks, including the newly-formed National Guard. In September of 2016, Russian authorities arrested an MVD colonel who allegedly had stashed more than USD 120 million in cash in a Moscow apartment.
It is important for U.S. companies, irrespective of size, to assess the business climate in the relevant market in which they will be operating or investing and to have effective compliance programs or measures to prevent and detect corruption, including foreign bribery. U.S. individuals and firms operating or investing in Russia should take time to become familiar with the relevant anticorruption laws of both Russia and the United States in order to comply fully with them. They should also seek, when appropriate, the advice of legal counsel.
Additional country information related to corruption can be found in the U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report available at https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/.
Resources to Report Corruption
Ambassador at Large for International Anti-Corruption Cooperation
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
32/34 Smolenskaya-Sennaya pl, Moscow, Russia
+7 499 244-16-06
Transparency International – Russia
Rozhdestvenskiy Bulvar, 10, Moscow
Individuals and companies that wish to report instances of bribery or corruption that impact, or potentially impact their operations, and to request the assistance of the United States Government with respect to issues relating to issues of corruption may call the Department of Commerce’s Russia Corruption Reporting hotline at (202) 482-7945, or submit the form provided at http://tcc.export.gov/Report_a_Barrier/reportatradebarrier_russia.asp