By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian officials have until July 1 to get rid of financial assets abroad as part of President Vladimir Putin's campaign to stem corruption and capital flight, his chief of staff said on Tuesday.

Sergei Ivanov, held a rare Kremlin news conference to announce measures related to a drive to "de-offshore" the Russian economy - a term used by Putin in the first state of the nation speech of his new term last year.

Russia ranked 133rd out of 174 states in Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perception Index. Its central bank chief said in February that almost $50 billion was sent abroad illegally last year.

Putin had signed two decrees designed to accompany legislation he submitted to parliament in February, which would bar many officials and state company executives from holding bank accounts, stocks and other financial instruments abroad, Ivanov said.

"If a person has foreign accounts today, we are giving him three months to get rid of these accounts," he said.

The bill Putin submitted to parliament was softer than one initiated within the legislature, which would have forbade officials from owning property abroad. Putin's bill also would allow officials to open foreign accounts through Russian banks.

Ivanov dismissed suspicion among critics who suspect the measures are mainly aimed more at bolstering Putin's image by portraying him as taking tough action to rein in a ruling elite, which many Russians see as corrupt.

"The fight against corruption is no public relations campaign or attempt to draw attention away from serious problems, it is a long war," Ivanov said.

He said corruption "discredits the authorities", likening it to a "rust that eats away at the very foundations of statehood and public morals."

The campaign to bring money back to the motherland fits in with Putin's appeals for patriotism since he started a third term last May. He has also played to nostalgia for the Soviet era, when officials were afraid to flaunt what wealth they had.

It comes at a time of heightened tension between Russia and the West, fueled in part by anti-American rhetoric in the ruling United Russia party and persistent pressure on foreign-funded advocacy groups in Russia.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Ron Askew)


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