A Russian lawmaker has proposed the abolition of grand theft auto as a separate criminal offence, saying that it maintains a legal loophole that allows offenders to avoid severe penalties.
The proposal has been drafted by MP Oleg Nilov (Fair Russia) and seeks to address a longstanding legislative controversy, which imposes a lighter punishment on motor-vehicle theft than the theft of any other property.
The maximum punishment for vehicle theft is a five-year prison sentence, while the theft of other property worth more than 1 million rubles (as most cars worth stealing are) carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
As the sponsor of the bill noted in an explanatory note, this creates an unjust situation by which thieves who did not manage to sell the stolen car get off with a much lighter punishment than those who do, despite the fact that the actual crime is the same in both cases.
According to the Interior Ministry, 43,000 cars were stolen in Russia in 2017. Of these, 21,000 cases were not qualified as actual theft because the criminals were caught red-handed and claimed they only wanted to joyride, rather than sell the car for financial gain.
To correct the situation, Nilov proposes to abolish “grand theft auto” as an offence in the Russian criminal code, and treat the theft of motor vehicles in the same way as any other property.
However, legal analysts quoted by Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily questioned the initiative. They say that any sign of premeditation or prior agreement between perpetrators qualifies as “an illegal possession of a motor vehicle” as actual theft. But they did agree that the existing situation is far from ideal, and that it should be changed.