MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved an amnesty for several thousand entrepreneurs jailed for economic crimes.
The routine criminalization of business disputes is symptomatic of the weak rule of law in Russia and has hampered the development of new businesses, essential to a drive to create a more vibrant economy less reliant on heavy industry and natural resources.
Entrepreneurs are often jailed by corrupt judges on trumped-up charges brought by crooked investigators and judges, with echoes of the repressive justice of the Soviet era.
Boris Titov, an ombudsman whose role is to relay the concerns of business to the government, proposed the amnesty last year.
He originally envisaged that 13,000 prisoners could be amnestied, but the law as passed excludes those with multiple convictions, meaning that the total could be lower.
The clause also appears to prevent the amnesty being applied to the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was convicted of fraud in 2005 and again in 2010. His supporters say he was jailed for crossing Putin during his first term as president.
The approval of the Duma is enough for the amnesty to go into force.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; writing by Megan Davies; Editing by Kevin Liffey)