Swiss may curb loophole allowing payments to avoid jail time

November 1, 2016 9:46 AM EDT

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Renova Group Viktor Vekselberg arrives for a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2016 (SPIEF 2016) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland may make it tougher for offenders to buy their way to freedom by revising a 2007 law that once helped Russian billionaire Victor Vekselberg settle allegations that he broke stock market disclosure rules.

The law lets lawbreakers facing a conditional sentence of up to two years in prison skirt punishment if they make compensation payments or undertake "every reasonable effort" to make amends for the damage they have done.

A proposal moving through Swiss parliament would narrow the eligibility for such deals to offenses where the conditional penalty is a year in prison or less, a change aimed at helping defuse the impression that wealthy people in Switzerland can reach into their wallets to get out of trouble.

"The Legal Affairs Committee of the National Council suggests a narrower scope in which the current threshold of two years' prison time is reduced," reads a notice published on the Swiss government's website on Tuesday.

Offenders would also have to admit to breaking the law to be eligible for such a deal, according to the proposal.

The Swiss parliament is taking comments until early February over these proposed changes to the criminal code's "Article 53" before debate begins.

In 2010, finance ministry proceedings against Vekselberg and Austrian investors Ronny Pecik and Georg Stumpf over whether they broke disclosure rules while amassing a stake in industrial company Sulzer (NYSE: SUN) were put on ice in a deal that included a 10 million Swiss franc ($10.15 million) payment, part of which went to help Swiss mountain villages. []

($1 = 0.9852 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John Miller; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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