Purge of ranks in Kingisepp Customs Office
Since the high-profile arrests of foreign trade players operating in Port Ust-Luga, the law enforcement authorities of the Northwestern Federal District have been impatiently waiting for a clamp down on the Kingisepp Customs Office – the place literally worshipped by smugglers of all kinds. Their expectations have been satisfied – a few days earlier, FSB operatives had questioned Sergei Slepukhin, Head of the Kingisepp Customs Office, and searched the office and residence of general Aleksander Bezlyudsky, Deputy Head of the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service. These actions have been taken due to the disappearance of three containers with meat from the temporary storage warehouse. The provided explanation was pretty original – allegedly, the meat was eaten by dogs.
Bad March for customs
Informational resources are full of sensational headlines: “Sergei Slepukhin, Head of the Kingisepp Customs Office, taken to the FSB for questioning”, “Customs boss submits resignation letter”, etc. According to the media, operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation, have arrived to Slepukhin’s office on Friday, searched it, and escorted him to St. Petersburg for a serious talk. The search was pretty short – only a few hours, and it is unknown what the investigators were looking for. Later it became known that two months ago, three containers with meat have disappeared from the temporary storage warehouse. According to explanations provided by the customs officials, the meat was eaten by dogs. How many dogs were there and how much time did it take them to consume several tons of meat?.. The Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service had kept silence and provided no comments with regards to the arrest of Slepukhin, which was pretty understandable – colonel Slepukhin used to be a protege of Aleksander German, Head of the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service.
While commenting the performance of the Kingisepp Customs Office, Sergei Slepukhin noted that the institution has transferred 23 million rubles ($403.6 thousand) to the federal budget in 2017, thus, outstripping the target. The foreign trade turnover was $2514 million in 2017, which is 26% more than in the same period last year.
It is necessary to note that Aleksander German has got the bad news about his subordinates and FSB searches at a session of the Federal Customs Service in Moscow, in the presence of his direct superior Vladimir Bulavin, Head of the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation. According to well-informed sources, searches and arrests in St. Petersburg performed during the session held in the central customs headquarters are a clear and indicative sign from the FSB. And this turn of events was easily predictable.
Series of ‘Black Fridays’
According to the media, events that had occurred two weeks ago have attracted the FSB attention to the Kingisepp Customs Office. Allegedly, two weeks ago, officers of the Northwestern Operative Customs have seized at the Ivangorod security control point two railroad cars with smuggled goods worth some 22 million rubles ($386.1 thousand). But the sources claim that this story was just a pretext – the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service has been under investigation for a while already. The majority of foreign trade players are aware that the Kingisepp Customs Office is a very special place – a junction of numerous commercial and criminal flows.
Kingisepp Customs Office
The main portion of the freight traffic from Finland and Baltic countries goes through Kingisepp. Those involved into the ‘Kingisepp affairs’ are very wealthy people. As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, oligarch Dmitry Mikhalchenko charged with smuggling had preferred to use this customs office for his operations because it is located not far from Port Ust-Luga. Late Stanislav Ivanov, Prosecutor of the Leningrad Region, was aware of these operations and reportedly has collected a huge volume of compromising materials against key figures of the Leningrad Region prior to his sudden death. It is unknown whether the prosecutor was able to share his knowledge with the FSB – but it is known that the FSB was eager to talk with him.
As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, the Kingisepp Customs Office and Port Ust-Luga were directly involved into all the major smuggling scandals in the last two years, including the arrest of governor 24 Dmitry Mikhalchenko and Igor Khavronov, Head of ULS Russia (St. Petersburg Branch of Turkish company ULS Global), escape of famous broker Boris Avakyan, and arrests and dismissals of high-ranked enforcement functionaries, including Andrei Bel’yaninov, Head of the Federal Customs Service, and Evgeny Murov, ex-Director of the Federal Protection Service. Officials from the Northwestern Customs would perfectly fit into this picture. Back in summer, rumors had circulated that high-profile arrests are forthcoming. Just a connecting link was required.
According to some information, Aleksei Marchukov, Director of ULS Broker, arrested in April 2017 together with Igor Khavronov, has become this link. The sources say that he was responsible for liaison with the personnel of the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service, supervised the clearance of smuggled goods at Ust-Luga, Ivangorod, and Pulkovo customs stations, and maintained ties with the Kingisepp Customs Office. Evil tongues claimed that he had personally delivered bribes and had good friendly relations with Sergei Slepukhin, Head of the Kingisepp Customs Office, person in charge of Ust-Luga Customs Station, and a number of functionaries in the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service.
ULS Global employees had produced fake declarations on the imported contraband and were responsible for the loyalty of certain officers serving in customs stations subordinate to the Kingisepp Customs Office. Obviously, ordinary inspectors had received next to nothing. The main interesants served in the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service – according to the sources, bribes conveyed there had amounted to $2 thousand per transport unit arriving by the ferry. The total remuneration to ‘big persons’ had reached $300–500 thousand per month. Perhaps, this is the reason behind the FSB interest to documents of the Kingisepp Customs Office and its head? But the surprising searches of major general Aleksander Bezlyudsky, Deputy Head of the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service, would likely shed very little light on this story. According to the media, both his office and private home located in Pesochny village of the Kurortny district were searched.
It is necessary to note that general Bezlyudsky is the Head of the Operative Customs of the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service and deputy of Aleksander German. The searches were performed in the framework of a criminal case instituted under Article 194 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (evasion of customs payments collected from organizations or natural person). The case is investigated by the Economic Security Service of the FSB Directorate for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. It is unknown yet whether any charges have been laid against the general and what is his procedural status. However, customs officers believe that this story has a totally different background.
As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, in 2016, a shipment of goods transported by Ferry1 belonging to above-mentioned ULS Global has been seized. The customs officials have transferred the consumer products for safe custody to Tsitadel (Citadel) Limited Liability Company belonging to well-known Dmitry Pushilin called behind his back “the last king of smuggling”. Tsitadel Limited Liability Company is the only enterprise in the Northwestern Federal District having a contract with the customs to store seized goods.
The Kingisepp customs officers have discovered discrepancies between the accompanying documents for the goods and actual contents of the containers. The Kingisepp City Court has ruled to seize the goods worth in total 490 million rubles ($8.6 million). However, the seizure procedure was not completed. In February 2017, the FSB Directorate for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region has submitted to the customs a request to examine and seize the above goods as evidence in seven criminal cases. By that time, Tsitadel has already put the goods to its storage facilities, and the request of the customs officers to provide the containers for examination was politely declined. After lengthy arguments, the customs officers have finally got to the cargo and found that the goods had undergone another transformation – while the rest of the consumer products taken by Tsitadel for safe custody was destroyed by fire.
General Aleksander Bezlyudsky has notified the Head of the Northwestern Administration of the Federal Customs Service of the reports produced by the General Administration of the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters (EMERCOM) and stating that the cause of fire was an arson. The losses sustained due to the fire amounted to 260 million rubles ($4.6 million). The Kingisepp Customs Office has submitted a report identifying elements of a crime stipulated in Article 312 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal actions against property subjected to inventory or attachment, or confiscation) in that incident.
A high-profile scandal has erupted with regards to the fire, and many people had expected well-known names to pop-up in relation to it. Customs officials believe that the searches in the residence and office of Aleksander Bezlyudsky were, in part, a revenge for his scrupulous investigation of the fire incident and attraction of public attention to it. Allegedly, this was a counterstrike from competing law enforcement clans from other agencies. Other sources think that this is the beginning of a long-overdue purge of ranks in the customs structures. The smuggling channel leading to Port Ust-Luga became way too big and overcrowded.