Criminal cases against Altai judges affect just a small part of the ‘corruption kraken’ 

Criminal cases against Altai judges affect just a small part of the ‘corruption kraken’
Why hadn’t watchdog authorities asked any questions to corrupt servants of Themis? Photo: The CrimeRussia

The Higher Judges' Qualification Board authorized the institution of criminal cases against judges of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. Vladislav Kolesnikov and Ruslan Terri are suspected of assisting a private company in tax evasion in exchange for a bribe. The arbitration court verdict was so controversial that the higher instance annulled it, while law enforcement structures started suspecting foul play. In the past, the two Altai judges had delivered dozens of similar verdicts – and many of those were annulled as well. Why hadn’t the watchdog authorities asked any questions to the corrupt servants of Themis earlier?

Alexander Bastyrkin, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), made a submission to the Higher Judges' Qualification Board to institute criminal cases against two judges of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. Vladislav Kolesnikov and Ruslan Terri are suspected of corruption, including bribe-taking and mediation in bribery.

This refers to a legal dispute between Kubanka Joint Stock Company and the Inter-District Inspectorate № 10 for the Altai Krai of the Federal Tax Service of Russia examined by Vladislav Kolesnikov, judge of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. In March 2018, the Inter-District Tax Inspectorate declined to grant Kubanka a tax deduction in the amount of 38.1 million rubles ($592.8 thousand) because the enterprise had claimed it on the basis of fictitious deals with an affiliated company. Kubanka was fined 490 thousand rubles ($7.6 thousand) and ordered to pay additional tax in the amount of 3.5 million rubles ($54.5 thousand). The company addressed the arbitration court – and in May 2017, Kolesnikov ruled that it is entitled to receive compensations for these deals and recognized the additional tax charges illegal. However, his verdict was later annulled by the higher instance.

In October 2017, the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal has examined the ruling of Kolesnikov and found that Kubanka was not entitled to tax deductions for the majority of the deals. The enterprise filed an appeal with the Arbitration Court of the North Siberian District – but in May 2018, the supreme instance refused to revise the verdict of the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal.

The investigation believes that judge Kolesnikov received a bribe in the amount of 800 thousand rubles ($12.4 thousand) for delivering a verdict in favor of Kubanka.

Our
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Vladislav Kolesnikov was born in 1974 in Barnaul. In 1997, graduated from Polzunov Altai State Technical University with a major in Automated Design Systems. In 2005, gained the second higher education by graduating from the Siberian Academy of State Service with a major in Jurisprudence. In 2005–2014, was an assistant judge at the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. On January 2, 2015, was appointed a judge of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai by a Presidential Decree. Has the 5th Judge Qualification Class.

According to the investigation, judge Ruslan Terri, who has voluntarily resigned in late 2018, was the mediator in this bribery episode. On December 7, 2018, the Judges' Qualification Board of the Altai Krai has terminated his judge's powers on the basis of paragraph 1 of part 1 of Article 14 of the Federal Law On the Status of Judges in the Russian Federation. At the same session, the Judges' Qualification Board has examined a submission to take disciplinary action against judge Terri made by Maksim Kulik, Acting Chairman of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. The submission was satisfied partially: a warning has been issued to Terri.

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Maksim Kulik, Acting Chairman of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai 

Our
notes

Ruslan Terri was born on June 5, 1975 in Zalesovo village, Altai krai. In 2000, graduated from the Altai State University with a major in Jurisprudence. In 2001, became an assistant judge at the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. On May 18, 2005, was appointed a judge of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai by a Presidential Decree. Has the 2nd Judge Qualification Class. Was awarded a Certificate of Honor of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai.

Neither Kolesnikov nor Terri had attended the session of the Higher Judges' Qualification Board held in Moscow to examine the possibility to institute criminal cases against them. Denis Naumov, a defense attorney for Kolesnikov, was present at the hearing. He asked to adjourn the examination because he was able to review only two volumes of the case file "due to the tight time limits" and had "neither physical nor judicial" possibilities to formulate arguments. When asked by Nikolai Timoshin, Chairman of the Higher Judges' Qualification Board, why his client was not present at the session, the lawyer responded: "I don't know. He suggested me to attend it".

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Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai 

Terri has submitted to the Higher Judges' Qualification Board a request to adjourn the session citing poor health condition. A letter confirming that Terri had addressed a medical center for treatment was attached to the document. However, the ICR representative has dismissed this request as ungrounded and said that Terri is deliberately procrastinating the examination of the matter. The Higher Judges' Qualification Board recognized the nonappearance of the Altai judge at the hearing a contempt of court and delivered a verdict in the absence of Kolesnikov and Terri. 

According to Naumov, his client had never received money from representatives of Kubanka, and no evidence of bribe-taking was presented: “This money is virtual; no one had received it. There is no evidence that he had received anything”. The investigator told the Higher Judges' Qualification Board that Kolesnikov has provided testimonies incriminating himself and other suspects. In response, the defense attorney said that his client “could not say anything else” during the questioning in the Regional Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation.

Naumov emphasized that his client has become a victim of persecution because of some decisions made by him in the past. The lawyer said that unknown people are threatening Kolesnikov by phone and once sent him a text message: “Are you still alive?“

According to the attorney, the judge had reported the threats to the Chairman of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. However, he was neither able to provide specific reasons behind the alleged persecution of Kolesnikov, nor explain the link between these threats and the bribe received by Kolesnikov from Kubanka. 

The members of the Higher Judges' Qualification Board were not convinced by the arguments of Naumov. They have stripped Terri and Kolesnikov from judges’ immunity and authorized the institution of criminal cases against them. Kolesnikov is going to be charged under paragraph “c” of part 2 of Article 290 (bribe-taking on a large scale), while Terri – under part 4 of Article 291 (bribe-giving) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Both Altai judges are facing up to 12 years behind bars.

The CrimeRussia source in the Administration for the Altai Krai of the Judicial Department at the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation explained why Kolesnikov and Terri haven’t attended the session of the Judges' Qualification Board: the judges clearly understood that after the confessions made by Kolesnikov in the Regional FSB Directorate, there was no point to insist on their innocence.


According to the source, Terri was the boss in this ‘tandem’ of Altai judges. He was the first to receive the arbitration judge’s status with the assistance of Viktor Ogai, the perpetual Chairman of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. In September 2018, Ogai has retired on reaching the maximum age limit – 70 years. After taking charge of the arbitration court, Ogai had pursued an original staffing policy – the majority of the judges appointed there were his friends or loyal henchmen.

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Viktor Ogai, ex-Chairman of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai

Upon becoming a judge in 2005, Terri made Kolesnikov his assistant. Together, they have delivered plenty of verdicts similar to the one resulting in the criminal cases against them. Terri had assisted in tax evasion not only to Kubanka – but to dozens of other companies as well. Many of his decisions were later annulled by higher instances. 

In January 2014, Terri had examined a legal dispute between Barnaul Diary Plant Closed Joint Stock Company and the Inter-District Inspectorate № 14 for the Altai Krai of the Federal Tax Service of Russia. The enterprise claimed that the requirement of the tax inspectorate to pay the value-added tax in the amount of 17.9 million rubles ($278.5 thousand), late payment fees in the amount of 3.6 million rubles ($56 thousand), and penalties in the amount of 590 thousand rubles ($9.2 thousand) was illegal. The dairy plant addressed the arbitration court, and Terri satisfied its claims in full and relieved the company from the need to pay the tax, late payment fees, and penalties.

In April 2014, the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal has examined that case, annulled the verdict issued by Terri in full, and ordered Barnaul Diary Plant to pay the outstanding taxes and other dues. The enterprise filed an appeal with the Arbitration Court of the North Siberian District – but in June 2014, the supreme instance refused to revise the verdict of the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal. 

Why hadn’t the law enforcement authorities expressed any interest to the decision made by Terri for the benefit of Barnaul Diary Plant? Why hadn’t they suspected bribery there? According to the source, no one had dared to ask such inconvenient questions while Viktor Ogai was in charge of the Arbitration Court of the Altai Krai. As a result, Altai judges had assisted enterprises in tax evasion with impunity. 

Why was Ogai so forgiving to the suspicious verdicts delivered by his subordinates? The source claims that a legal dispute between Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory Limited Liability Company and the Inter-District Inspectorate № 14 for the Altai Krai of the Federal Tax Service of Russia examined by Terri in July 2013 may provide an answer to this question. The tax inspectorate has carried out an audit and identified a fraud scheme used by the Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory to avoid remitting taxes in the amount of some 500 million rubles ($7.8 million). The enterprise decided to appeal the audit results in the arbitration court. 

After the examination of this case by judge Terri, the amount of outstanding taxes has decreased to 280 million rubles ($4.4 million). Terri relieved the company from the need to pay late payment fees on the value-added tax in the amount of 32.6 million rubles ($507.3 thousand), penalties on the value-added tax in the amount of 20.6 million rubles ($320.5 thousand), consolidated social tax in the amount of 2.4 million rubles ($37.3 thousand), late payment fees on the consolidated social tax in the amount of 480 thousand rubles ($7.5 thousand), profit tax in the amount of 123.1 million rubles ($1.9 million), late payment fees on the profit tax in the amount of 28.1 million rubles ($437.2 thousand), and penalties on the profit tax in the amount of 24.6 million rubles ($382.8 thousand). 

In November 2013, the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal has examined that case, partially annulled the verdict issued by Terri, and ordered Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory Limited Liability Company to pay all the outstanding taxes, late payment fees, and penalties, except for the penalties on the value-added tax in the amount of 26.8 million rubles ($417 thousand), penalties on the consolidated social tax in the amount of 441 thousand rubles ($6.9 thousand), value-added tax in the amount of 123.1 million rubles ($1.9 million), and penalties on the profit tax in the amount of 35.207 million rubles ($547.8 thousand). As a result, even after the revision of the verdict delivered by Terri, Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory has saved over 217 million rubles ($3.4 million) in taxes and penalties. 

Could the enterprise give a bribe to Terri to save millions of dollars? The source does not think so – Aleksander Tumbartsev, owner of Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory, had good friendly relations with Viktor Ogai. Evil tongues claim that this friendship was not disinterested from both sides. In 2008, the son of Ogai purchased a home in a deluxe cottage community on Zmeinogorsky highway; Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory Limited Liability Company was the builder of that settlement. It cannot be ruled out that Ogai junior acquired a home worth several million rubles with a ‘friendly discount’ or even for free. In other words, there was no need for Tumbartsev to pay anything to Terri.

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Aleksander Tumbartsev

By the way, Construction Directorate of the Altai Motor Factory failed to remit to the budget even the reduced amount of outstanding taxes and penalties. A criminal case was instituted against Aleksander Tumbartsev under paragraph “b” of part 2 of Article 199 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (evading payment of taxes and (or) fees collectible from organizations on an especially large scale). In June 2016, the Tsentalny District Court of Barnaul has expectedly acquitted Tumbartsev “for absence of elements of crime in his acts”. The CrimeRussia source emphasizes that Ogai was a true friend of Tumbartsev always ready to help him. 

In 2015, after working for ten years as an assistant to Terri, Kolesnikov has finally received the judge's status. According to the source, he passed the exam at the second attempt and only thanks to the ‘patronage' of Ogai and Terri. Colleagues still believe that Kolesnikov is incompetent; his promotion can be explained only by Ogai's desire to make his loyal henchman a judge. 

Upon becoming a judge, Kolesnikov himself started making suspicious decisions that had to attract the attention of the law enforcement authorities. Initially, he had handled cases involving relatively small sums. For instance, in May 2016, he had examined a legal dispute between Aleko Limited Liability Company and the Inter-District Inspectorate № 14 for the Altai Krai of the Federal Tax Service of Russia. According to the plaintiff, the tax inspectorate had illegally claimed from it 44.5 thousand rubles ($692) in land tax plus applicable fees and penalties – and Kolesnikov upheld the stance of Aleko. 

In August 2016, the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal has examined that case, annulled the verdict issued by Kolesnikov in full, and ordered Aleko to pay the outstanding land tax. The enterprise filed an appeal with the Arbitration Court of the North Siberian District – but in January 2017, the supreme instance refused to revise the verdict of the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal. 

Over time, Kolesnikov has sharpened his skills and started handling cases involving larger amounts of money. In September 2016, he had examined a legal dispute between Liftremont Limited Liability Company and the Inter-District Inspectorate № 1 for the Altai Krai of the Federal Tax Service of Russia. The enterprise claimed that the requirement of the tax inspectorate to remit the personal income tax in the amount of 3.1 million rubles ($48.2 thousand), late payment fees in the amount of 937 thousand rubles ($14.6 thousand), and penalties in the amount of 368 thousand rubles ($5.7 thousand) was illegal. The company filed a lawsuit with the arbitration court, and Kolesnikov delivered a verdict in favor of Liftremont. 

In August 2016, the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal has examined that case, annulled the verdict issued by Kolesnikov in full, and ordered Liftremont to pay the outstanding taxes. The enterprise filed an appeal with the Arbitration Court of the North Siberian District – but in February 2017, the supreme instance refused to revise the verdict of the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal. 

In the meantime, Terri had also continued delivering verdicts according to the smoothly-running scheme. 

In January 2017, Terri had examined a legal dispute between SibTransMash Limited Liability Company and the Inter-District Inspectorate № 15 for the Altai Krai of the Federal Tax Service of Russia. The enterprise claimed that the tax inspectorate had illegally charged from it the value-added tax in the amount of 10.3 million rubles ($160.3 thousand), late payment fees in the amount of 1.9 million rubles ($29.6 thousand), and penalties in the amount of 1 million rubles ($15.6 thousand). The company has filed a lawsuit with the arbitration court – and Terri satisfied its claim in full and relieved the company from the need to pay the tax, late payment fees, and penalties. 

In April 2017, the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal has examined that case, annulled the verdict issued by Terri in full, and ordered SibTransMash to pay the outstanding dues. The enterprise filed an appeal with the Arbitration Court of the North Siberian District – but in June 2017, the supreme instance refused to revise the verdict of the Seventh Arbitration Court of Appeal.

According to The CrimeRussia source, the law enforcement authorities were aware that Terri and Kolesnikov had assisted enterprises in tax evasion. However, they started asking inconvenient questions to them only after the resignation of Viktor Ogai.

There was no need for the operatives to dig deep – they took one of the most recent cases involving Kubanka Limited Liability Company and quickly received required testimonies from Kolesnikov – who was not as sturdy and brave under pressure as his colleague and ‘patron'. Being a seasoned judge, Terri has assessed the situation rationally and rushed to resign in a hope to get away with a disciplinary reprimand. However, the judge has launched the ‘retreat operation' too late – and now he is facing criminal prosecution as well.

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