Thursday the Russian Ministry of Finance proposed to punish citizens that use so-called “money surrogates” with up to 7 years in prison. Russian authorities consider Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as such “surrogates”.
The exact text of these planned changes in the Russian Criminal Code has not yet been revealed, however according to the Russian News Agency Interfax, it is expected that the corrections will be aimed at those who seek to distribute, purchase in the interest of selling, or sell “monetary surrogates”.
The Ministry of Finance plans to punish citizens with an up to 500,000 Rubles fine or a prison sentence of up to 4 years. For those involved in organized groups, the punishments are raised to a fine of 500,000-1 Mln Rubles or a prison sentence of up to 6 years.
For high-level managers of financial organizations, the Ministry wishes to impose even harsher measures for the same crimes: a fine measuring between 1-2.5 Mln Rubles, or a prison sentence of up to 7 years.
What are monetary surrogates
In the release it was stated that, although it is forbidden in Russia to release monetary surrogates and other cryptocurrencies, in no legal documents is it clarified what constitutes a 'monetary surrogate' nor are there outlines for punishments relating to such crimes.
"The possibilities offered by anonymity and freedom from control by national organs of governement brings to monetary surrogates a shady economic turn-around. Thanks to the anonymity of wallet-owners, these monetary surrogates have gained a large degree of popularity in the purchase of illegal materials and laundering of illegal funds.”
“Besides this, as a result of this competition aimed at legally valid currencies the state's sovereignty (in the form of monetary monopoly) in the form of monetary emission is damaged and it's capabilities of raising money from it's seigniorage": added the Ministry in a statement.
Two Russian Ministries at Odds
The Ministry of Finance first attempted to introduce legislation targeted at 'monetary surrogates' and Bitcoin in 2014, but at the time the project was heavily critized by the Ministry of Economic Development.
In September 2015, it was revealed that the Ministry of Finance had concluded work on the proposed legislation. The department wished to punish transgressors with either a fine of up to 500,000 Rubles or a prison sentence fo up to 2 years.
In February 2016, the Assistant Minister of Finance Alexei Moiseyev said that the department "wishes to limit and punish only for the exchange of cryptocurrencies to Rubles", as an analogue to other laws connected with illegal currency operations.