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. (Read more Russia stories.)