Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
Today I introduced to the State Duma some amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. These amendments establish a series of norms that will entail strict liability for anyone involved in human trafficking, especially trafficking children, using slave labour and other corresponding violations of the laws.
Human trafficking is a part of international organised crime. It is one of the most serious and pressing problems we face today, and is unfortunately a particularly urgent issue for us here in Russia. A growing number of Russian citizens, above all women and children, are falling victim to these cynical crimes.
Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that entails the most brutal and cruel violations of human rights. Experts have calculated that organised crime groups make tens of millions of dollars through human trafficking. There can be no doubt that alongside the proceeds of drug and arms trafficking, this money forms the financial basis supporting international terrorism.
Russian criminal legislation does not address this problem with any systemic sort of regulation, which paves the way for such dangerous phenomena as human trafficking to go unpunished. The new amendments will fill this gap in the legislation. I call on the heads of the law enforcement agencies to give this problem their fullest attention and use all means and opportunities the law provides to combat this evil.
First, I would like to point out that these amendments provide for quite tough sanctions of up to 15 years imprisonment, and I especially want to make clear that the law will punish those who make a living from exploiting people, and not those who, after finding themselves in difficult moments in life, end up in the filthy hands of slave traders.
The second thing I wanted to say on the law enforcement theme is that in connection with the arrest of the head of the company Yukos the leadership of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and also several political figures have requested a meeting with me.
I hold regular and systematic meetings with the representatives of political parties, with employers’ and trade union leaders and with business community representatives. These meetings are useful and necessary and they will continue in the future. But there will be no meetings and no bargaining over the law enforcement agencies and their activities, so long, of course, as these agencies are acting within the limits of Russian legislation.
It is true that we still have much to do to improve law enforcement work. But the country has adopted a democratic and legally regulated system of taking decisions in the criminal law sphere.
Neither the executive authorities nor even the Prosecutor’s Office can deprive someone of their freedom, even for the period of pre-trial detention. Only the court has this power. If, in this particular case, the court has made this decision, then I assume that it had reasons for doing so. In any case, it is up to those who think someone is guilty to prove so, but in the end, only the court has the power to decide, and before the court, as before the law, all should be equal, from the humblest clerk to the highest state official, as was the case, for example, with a federal government minister, or rather, former minister. Everyone should be equal before the law, whether ordinary citizen or middling entrepreneur or big businessman, and no matter how many billions of dollars they may have in their personal or corporate accounts. Without this equality we will never manage to build an economically effective and socially regulated tax system. We would never be able to teach people to pay their taxes, make them pay their taxes, ensure contributions to the social and pension funds. And we would never be able to break the back of organised crime and corruption.
Some countries have set up special systems to fight corruption, and I think it would be good for us to do likewise. I request the Government and will give the corresponding instructions to the Presidential Executive Office to come up with a corresponding proposal in this area in two weeks.
At the same time, I do understand the business community’s concern because any action taken by the federal authorities often gets turned into some kind of campaign. I must make it clear that the Yukos case should in no way be seen as setting a precedent or giving rise to analogies and generalisations regarding the results of previous privatisations, and I would ask therefore that all speculation and hysteria on this issue come to an end and that the Government not get drawn into this debate.
We will now take up economic matters. I know that the Government is preparing amendments to the Land Code to deal with a situation when the business community and entrepreneurs are unable in time to recategorise their land from perpetual use to lease or ownership in accordance with the land law. I have recently met with the Patriarch, and he said religious organisations had the same problems. I request that the Government bear this in mind when drafting its decisions. That was all I wanted to tell you at the beginning, and now let us exchange information about current problems. I would like to give the floor to Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev.