In the last 10 years Russia has imprisoned nearly three million entrepreneurs, many unjustly. This statistic comes from a new ombudsman for business rights, Boris Titov, who says it is “hard to find another social group persecuted on such a large scale”. How has this come about?
Businessmen have complained for years that people have been able to frame commercial rivals – by paying corrupt police officers to plant evidence and make arrests to order. But only now are they being taken seriously.
More and more well-heeled entrepreneurs have been joining, even leading street protests in recent months, with reform of the courts one of their main demands.
Perhaps those protests influenced President Putin’s decision last month to create a post of “ombudsman for business rights” – but he might also have been persuaded by the $84bn in capital that left Russia last year, a record amount. Russians are investing overseas because they fear for the safety of their businesses at home.
“The economy will be completely destroyed,” says entrepreneur Vladimir Perevezin. “Because businessmen are not safe in our country – anyone could be sent to jail.”
Perevezin knows what it’s like. He was imprisoned for more than seven years after being framed, he says, for money laundering.
His friend Valery Gaiduk was also imprisoned for three years, convicted of fraud. “I’m 100% sure that a rival paid to have me arrested,” he says. He had been co-owner of a successful dental practice, but he claims police officers took a $500,000 bribe to frame him.