Moscow – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev vowed on Thursday to crack down harshly on people who intended to profit from reselling their tickets to the 2018 Soccer World Cup.
The price of admission for the June 14-July 15 event ranges from 1,200 rubles ($22) for the nosebleed seats at the opening matches to 66,000 ($1,210) rubles for the best ones available for the grand finale.
Medvedev told a government meeting that Russia had assured the world football governing body FIFA it would stop scalpers in their tracks by imposing prohibitive penalties at the marquee event.
"This includes fines for those who engage in (price) speculation," Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying.
"It will not matter whether these are ordinary citizens or officials, individual entrepreneurs or organisations."
The Kommersant newspaper said a law being drafted by the government slaps fines on individuals that could reach 25 times the price of the ticket's face value.
Scalpers who get caught reselling the most expensive ones for the final at Moscow's refurbished Luzhniki Stadium would thus have to cough up $28,000 – nearly four times the average annual salary reported by Russia's statistics agency in July.
Companies that profit from the illicit trade could be put out of business for 90 days and forced to pay even greater financial penalties.
The legislation further slashes the amount of time courts have to hear the disputed cases to 10 days.
The government's legislation must be submitted to the lower house of parliament — a rubber-stamp body controlled by the Kremlin — by December 18.
It then has to be approved by an equally pliant upper chamber before being signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia is keen to use the most watched television event in the world to showcase itself as a modern power that has shed corruption and other shadowy practices of its post-Soviet past.
The 11 host cities stretching from Kaliningrad near the European Union to Yekaterinburg in the Urals have undergone wholesale renovations aimed at burnishing Russia's image as a welcoming country with a friendly face.
Russia did the same to the Black Sea port city of Sochi when the summer resort was restyled to host the February 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
But any goodwill Russia could then muster dissipated after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula the subsequent month.
Its relations with the West have remained particularly strained ever since.
But the Russian squad has been keen to repair international relations with the help of some old-fashioned football diplomacy.
It will open Luzhniki Stadium after a four-year renovation on Saturday when it hosts Argentina and its Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
Russia will then entertain Spain at a brand new arena built in the cultural capital Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.