Saratov region prosecutor to conduct checks into seventy NGOs

27 February 2013

Source: (info)
On 26 February the independent non-commercial organisation the Human Rights Resource Centre found out that the Public Prosecutor's Office for the Saratov Region is planning to carry out a mass check of non-profit organisations in the region. A total of 70 NGOs are due to be inspected.

Maria Kanevskaya, PhD in Law, Director of the Human Rights Resource Centre and coordinator of the Club of Third Sector Lawyers, had this to say on the situation surrounding the mass investigation by the Saratov Region Public Prosecutor's Office of NGOs who receive or used to receive funding from abroad:

"As a supervisory body the public prosecutor's office has the right to investigate non-profit organisations, with the exception of any issues that fall within the jurisdiction of other supervisory bodies. An investigation concerning the failure of an NGO to register on the special register of "foreign agents" can be carried out on the basis of a complaint made by a private individual or legal entity, or information from a federal or local government agency, or the press. It should contain information supporting the claim that the activities of the NGO contain 'signs of extremism,' and that the activities of the NGO violate Russian law."

Background information:

The law includes within the jurisdiction of the Public Prosecutor's Office everything that does not fall under the jurisdiction of special regulatory bodies. In relation to non-commercial organisations the prosecutor does not have the right to look into any issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, the tax authorities, etc..., for example by verifying compliance with articles of the law, financial reporting to the judicial authorities and tax authorities, etc... No time period for the investigation is specified in the federal law On the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, but they should be guided by the principle of what is reasonable and fair.

The powers of the public prosecutor during the course of the investigation (Part 1 of Article 22 of this law) are:

· upon presentation of official identification to freely enter the territory and premises of the organisation being audited;
· to have access to their documents and materials;
· to demand the necessary documents, materials, statistical and other information be presented, and specialists allocated to clarify any issues that may arise;
· to summon officials and private citizens to explain any violations of the law.

In conducting the investigation, the public prosecutors must be guided by the procedures established by the law for the relevant cases on issues "covered by the legislation on banking, tax or other secrets." In conducting scheduled and unscheduled inspections public prosecutors must avoid requesting access to excessive materials, documents and information which could be obtained directly by the prosecutors during the on-site inspection.

Advice of lawyers of the Human Rights Resource Centre:

It is extremely important not to give representatives of the Public Prosecutor's Office access to information which is not connected to the subject of the investigation or which does not fall within its remit, or which is not covered by the legislation on statistical data. Despite the fact that there is no set time period for the investigation to be carried out, nevertheless as a general rule (with some exceptions), organisations should be inspected within 30 days; if necessary, this period can be extended by a further 30 days.