REUTERS SUMMIT-Russia needs more risk takers
(For other news from Reuters Russian and Eastern Europe Investment Summit, click on http://www.reuters.com/finance/summits)
* Has spearheaded amnesty for jailed entrepreneurs
* Seeks to improve situation for immigrants
* Says entrepreneurial spirit in Russia weak
MOSCOW, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Russia needs more risk takers willing to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs, said Boris Titov, an official whose role is to relay the concerns of business to the government.
Businesses run up against a host of problems in Russia such as red tape, high costs, corruption and the danger of wrongful imprisonment. A poll by the Levada Center in May showed that 38 percent of Russian entrepreneurs wanted to emigrate.
"The spirit of entrepreneurship is weak," said Titov, who ran a sparkling wine business before President Vladimir Putin hired him in 2012 to protect entrepreneurs' rights.
"I was just speaking with students at a university and out of about 300 people, only one hand was raised when I asked 'who wants to become a businessman?'," Titov told the Reuters Russia Investment Summit.
"When I asked, what is the main problem, they said 'it's more safe and stable to get a salary'."
Russians have a distrust of businessmen, tarnished by the chaotic privatisations of the 1990s which enriched a few. According to a Levada Center survey this year, 35 percent of people think the activities of large Russian businessmen and entrepreneurs are likely to harm the country.
Many spurn 'biznes' for what they see as the safer world of bureaucracy. Twenty percent of Russia's labour force works for the government, the OECD think-tank has estimated, compared with around 15 percent in the United States.
Titov acknowledged the problems: "The main three conditions for doing business in Russia should be: safe, comfortable and profitable. If those are working the economy grows."
Russia ranks 112th globally on a World Bank scale of ease-of-doing-business and 101st in terms of ease of starting a business. An estimated $38 billion in private capital left Russia in the first half of the year, according to the central bank.
Titov has spearheaded an amnesty to try to correct failures in Russia's legal system, which has often seen entrepreneurs jailed on trumped-up charges stemming from business disputes. The amnesty started in the summer.
Titov, who estimates more than 13,000 have been locked up for economic crimes, said 182 people have now been freed. A total of 861 have been amnestied - including those being prosecuted who have not yet gone to jail.
He is also proposing changes to rules governing immigrant workers, aiming to enable them to gain work permits and leave the country without being penalized.
This would help prevent illegal immigrants giving businesses that skirt the law the upper hand over those who observe it, he said. According to some estimates, Russia has 10 million illegal immigrants, compared to a population of 140 million.
Titov, whose official title is Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights, previously ran sparkling wine house Abrau-Dyurso. He spoke wistfully about returning to the business, now run by his son.
"I dream about it," he said. "Of course it's much better to start your day thinking about the market or how sparkling wine is sold than about getting new claims for problems. But we have to change the situation and one day I hope I will return."
(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Matthew Tostevin)