Best Lawyers for Criminal Defense in Russia

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Practice Area Definition

Criminal Defense Definition

Criminal defense is a dynamically growing legal practice that mirrors all trends, issues, and controversies of Russian economy. The Criminal Code of 1996 was amended more than 200 times over the last 20 years, with multiple mass amnesties taking place. There are ongoing debates on toughening and liberalization of criminal law, decriminalization of particular acts, creating a special regime for entrepreneurs. In addition to traditional crimes against personhood, property, public order, and security, regulation on “white collar” crimes involving finance, taxes, and corruption is constantly developing.

Criminal sanctions are imposed for financial crimes such as falsification of financial documents, creation of pyramid schemes, housing construction fraud, and cartel forming. Investigation and prosecution of such cases are a landmark development in Russian practice.

In the political arena, two opposing trends are in conflict: liberalization of criminal law and decriminalization of acts that pose low public danger versus tightening of criminal prosecution. For instance, in 2012, entrepreneurial fraud, previously a felony, was reclassified as a medium-gravity crime with significantly mitigated sanctions. At the same time, regular fraud remained a felony with severe sanctions. In 2014, Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the mitigation of sanctions for entrepreneurs was unconstitutional. 

Sanctions for crimes of corruption – giving and taking bribes, enabling bribery, and commercial graft – have been tightened. In 2011, these crimes became punishable by fines proportional to the amount of bribe. However, when courts started to issue fines in lieu of incarceration, many convicts were unable to pay such amounts, and by the end of 2013, incarceration was reintroduced. In 2015, fines for minor corruption crimes were reduced, yet confiscation of property was proposed as a punishment for more severe offenses.

Contemporary Russian criminal law also reflects the trend for greater state involvement in Russian economy. Since 2015, head managers of companies with state participation are subject to the same sanctions for misconduct as government or municipal officials. 

New provisions in the Criminal Code and crimes in the economical domain can involve major companies with a large number of employees and managers, high volume of business, and significant scope of documentations. Attorneys handling these cases need to be experts in economics, finance, and civil law. Defense in ‘white collar crime’ cases increasingly demands the effort of an entire team of professionals comprising experts in multiple fields. Success in this area is no longer the purview of private practice counsels, but of the law firms that unite attorneys of various practices.


Criminal defense is a dynamically growing legal practice that mirrors all trends, issues, and controversies of Russian economy. The Criminal Code of 1996 was amended more than 200 times over the last 20 years, with multiple mass amnesties taking place. There are ongoing debates on toughening and liberalization of criminal law, decriminalization of particular acts, creating a special regime for entrepreneurs. In addition to traditional crimes against personhood, property, public order, and security, regulation on “white collar” crimes involving finance, taxes, and corruption is constantly developing.

Criminal sanctions are imposed for financial crimes such as falsification of financial documents, creation of pyramid schemes, housing construction fraud, and cartel forming. Investigation and prosecution of such cases are a landmark development in Russian practice.

In the political arena, two opposing trends are in conflict: liberalization of criminal law and decriminalization of acts that pose low public danger versus tightening of criminal prosecution. For instance, in 2012, entrepreneurial fraud, previously a felony, was reclassified as a medium-gravity crime with significantly mitigated sanctions. At the same time, regular fraud remained a felony with severe sanctions. In 2014, Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the mitigation of sanctions for entrepreneurs was unconstitutional. 

Sanctions for crimes of corruption – giving and taking bribes, enabling bribery, and commercial graft – have been tightened. In 2011, these crimes became punishable by fines proportional to the amount of bribe. However, when courts started to issue fines in lieu of incarceration, many convicts were unable to pay such amounts, and by the end of 2013, incarceration was reintroduced. In 2015, fines for minor corruption crimes were reduced, yet confiscation of property was proposed as a punishment for more severe offenses.

Contemporary Russian criminal law also reflects the trend for greater state involvement in Russian economy. Since 2015, head managers of companies with state participation are subject to the same sanctions for misconduct as government or municipal officials. 

New provisions in the Criminal Code and crimes in the economical domain can involve major companies with a large number of employees and managers, high volume of business, and significant scope of documentations. Attorneys handling these cases need to be experts in economics, finance, and civil law. Defense in ‘white collar crime’ cases increasingly demands the effort of an entire team of professionals comprising experts in multiple fields. Success in this area is no longer the purview of private practice counsels, but of the law firms that unite attorneys of various practices.