Crisis closes borders to thousands in debt

In the first quarter of 2009, the Federal Bailiffs' Service of the Russian Federation (FBSRF) refused 28,000 Russians permission to leave the country because of their debts. This is twice the number of Russian citizens denied permission to go abroad in 2008.
Tatyana Ignatyeva, Deputy Director of the FBSRF, told a press conference in Moscow, "In the first quarter of this year, 28,000 citizens liable for debts totaling 233 million rubles [$7 million] were prevented from leaving the country."

She reported that about 2,500 Russians prohibited from leaving the country had been apprehended while trying to cross the border in the first three months of the year.

Temporary restrictions on the right of debtors to go abroad have existed in Russia since 1996. The law governing departures from Russia prescribes seizure of a debtor's passport. This can happen at passport control at an airport, regardless possession of a ticket.

Cooperation between the Federal Bailiffs' Service and the Federal Migration Service (FMS) started at the beginning of 2008. The two departments agreed that before issuing a passport valid for foreign travel the FMS would check whether the citizen was registered on the FBSRF database. If he or she proved to be subject to a current court order, they could be denied a passport until settling their debts.

In principle this measure can be applied to any debtor regardless of the sum owed. Those denied permission to go abroad are primarily persistent non-payers who have defaulted on credit or on alimony payments, although debtors who have not paid, for example, a heavy traffic fine for a year can also find themselves on the "black list."

According to the law, debtors are notified that their right to leave the country has been restricted and that they have been denied a passport. The debt can only be settled through the FBSRF. If the debtor does not voluntarily pay the debt within five days, 7 percent is added to the sum owed. The Border service is informed that the debt has been settled within a month and then the former debtor is taken off the "black list."

The FBSRF is also drawing up rules which will allow it to restrict a debtor's right not just to go abroad, but to move within the Russian Federation.

In 2008 more than 83,000 citizens were unable to leave the country because of their debts, which totalled $25 million.

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