To Boost Economy, Russia Frees Jailed Entrepreneurs
110K 'economic criminals' are currently in prison
By Kevin Spak, Newser User
Posted Aug 9, 2013 1:03 PM CDT
Updated Aug 9, 2013 1:15 PM CDT
A watch tower and barracks of a prison camp, similar to one in Partsa, is seen in the village of Barashevo, some 370 km (230 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Laura Mills)

(Newser) – Faced with economic malaise, Russia needs some entrepreneurs, and it knows just where to find them: in prison. Putin administration official Boris Titov has made it his mission to scour the prison camp system once known as the gulag for businessmen that could be granted amnesty. He's got no shortage of candidates; Russia has 110,000 people serving time for "economic crimes"—that's at least 1 in 10 prisoners. Titov tells the New York Times that the government under Putin has "overreacted" to the dangers of organized crime and privatization.

One freed man, for example, spent his life savings starting a modest upholstery business using leopard-print fabric—only to have police seize that fabric and give it to a competitor, before jailing the man on a copyright infringement charge that Titov has concluded was baseless. (Says the incredulous owner, "Who owns the copyright, a leopard?") Russian police, under pressure to make arrests, often take bribes from businesses to arrest their competitors, Transparency International explains. In the first month of the now 6-month-old amnesty program, 13 prisoners were freed.