President Vladimir Putin has urged Russian prosecutors to protect the rights of businesspeople 'with a view to improving the business climate.'
Speaking to a gathering of prosecutors in Moscow on March 19, Putin said that a 'more effective defense of the rights of business owners' was important 'so we can make up for restrictions imposed from the outside by improving the quality of work within the country.'
The Russian economy has been hard hit by economic sanctions imposed by Western countries over Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its ongoing military, political, and economic support for separatist formations in eastern Ukraine, as well as by Russias countersactions.
Putin's comments come a month after the February 14 arrest of Michael Calvey, a U.S. citizen and the founder of the multi-billion-dollar Baring Vostok investment fund.
Calvey and several business colleagues have been charged with fraud, accusations the accused deny.
Former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin on February 18 called Calvey's arrest an 'emergency' for the Russian economy that would damage the country's reputation and investment climate.
SEE ALSO: Russia's Kudrin Calls Detention Of U.S. Investor 'Emergency' For Economy
On February 25, Baring Vostok appealed to Putin to 'ensure a comprehensive, independent, and objective investigation.'
Putin has frequently called for greater protections for entrepreneurs from baseless investigations and charges.
But critics accuse the Kremlin of turning a blind eye to the politically or economically motivated abuse of law enforcement powers, citing high-profile examples such as the 2001 takeover of the independent NTV television channel by state-controlled Gazprom and the 2004 takeover of key assets owned by the private Yukos oil company by state-owned Rosneft.
During his state-of-the-nation address on February 20, Putin said 'honest businesses' should not live in fear of prosecution.
In his speech to prosecutors, the Russian president also urged prosecutors to do more to ensure proper conditions for those awaiting trial.
Human rights activists have documented numerous cases of torture and abuse in Russian remand prisons, including the 2009 death in custody of tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky after 358 days in Moscow's Butyrka prison.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters RFE/RL
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