Queen of VAT: How St. Petersburg senior taxwoman Valentina Koryazina used to decide who must pay how much
According to a CrimeRussia source, Valentina Koryazina, Head of the St. Petersburg City Inspectorate of the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation, might be involved into a larceny scheme.
Valentina Koryazina has been working in the St. Petersburg tax authorities for 26 years. In 2006 she became Deputy Head of the St. Petersburg City Inspectorate of the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation (FTS). Later she was the Head of the Largest Taxpayers Inter-Regional Inspectorate No.10 (handled military-industrial enterprises). Finally in 2009 she became the head of the St. Petersburg City Inspectorate.
The notorious ex-Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov had contributed to her career growth. In the period of 2004–2007 he was the head of the FTS and retained the right of vote in key staffing decisions in the Tax Service even after his transfer to the Ministry of Defense. Furthermore, the new Head of the FTS was Mikhail Mokretsov – his former deputy. Another key person in the team of Serdyukov was Tatiana Shevtsova. She began her career in tax authorities of the Central district of St. Petersburg and met the disgraced Minister of Defense there. In the beginning of the 2000s, Shevtsova worked in the same Inspectorate № 10, while Serdyukov and later Koryazina handled files of largest taxpayers. Later Shevtsova became a deputy for Serdyukov in the FTS, then she was a deputy for Mokretsov for some time, and ultimately returned under the wing of Serdyukov in the Ministry of Defense (where she works to the present time). Shevtsova used to supervise Valentina Koryazina in the period when she was handling files of large military-industrial enterprises.
And what a coincidence: in June 2016 Aleksey Anokhin, a nephew of Shevtsova, got in trouble. He was arrested during a large-scale operation involving numerous searches and performed jointly by the economic department of the General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (MIA) and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) in the framework of a criminal case related to illegal value added tax (VAT) refunds. The Main Investigations Directorate for St. Petersburg of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR) believes that Anokhin is one of the leaders of this criminal group.
16 key persons, including Viktor Mozgovoy, a lawyer of the Law Society of the Leningrad Region; owners of companies Olga Borodulina and Aleksander Reshetov; employees of these companies Dmitry Govorov, Mikhail Kadykov, Lyudmila Poklonskaya, Nikolai Prudov, Mikhail Krasnikov, Ekaterina Zvyagintseva, etc., and 30 their accomplices, have been charged under part 4 of Article 159 (Swindling committed by an organized group or on an especially large scale) and Article 174.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Legalization (Laundering) of Monetary Funds or other property acquired by a person as a result of an offence committed by him/her). Since 2011 they have received illegal value added tax refunds for the total amount over 1 billion rubles using more than 70 organizations under their control, including affiliated foreign companies and St. Petersburg industrial enterprises.
According to the investigation, the suspects were purchasing copper scrap and then reselling it multiple times via dummy companies, raising the price and not paying taxes. But because VAT is not refunded for deals with scrap metal, the copper was allegedly processed and sold abroad as copper products. Fake documents with overcharged prices were provided to tax and customs authorities, and then the suspects received 18% VAT refunds.
The suspects used to sell copper to Germany and Austria via Svelen Limited Liability Company (specializing in manufacturing and sales of products of copper and its alloys) owned by Sergey Semenov – a partner of Anokhin, – while the profits were transferred to offshore companies registered in the UK, Lithuania, and Cyprus (Lameran Ventures LTD).
Such a trade chain has been traced on the basis of available documents; however, currently the investigators are checking whether the metal actually existed in reality, or it was purchased and sold only on paper. The existence of real foreign buyers is also in question. Apparently, Semenov was responsible for the production aspect in this scheme, while Anokhin – for settling matters with tax authorities.
People involved into export of metal products know very well how complicated is the VAT refund procedure. Tax authorities have an unofficial instruction: whenever possible, do not pay a ruble from the state budget. As a results, companies claiming tax refunds become subjects to cameral tax audits and often have to address arbitration court to get their money. It is unlikely, therefore, that the criminals were able to implement such suspicious schemes without assistance from tax authorities – and the instigators think so, too. According to Pavel Kamchatny, the Deputy Head of the Main Investigations Directorate for St. Petersburg of ICR, neither customs officers, nor tax officials have been arrested in the framework of this case yet. But the schemes described above could not be realized without their patronage. Therefore, Kamchatny believes that the criminals had sustainable corruption links in the respective agencies.
By the way, this is not the first crime involving illegal VAT refunds through St. Petersburg tax bodies. In March 2015 the Dzerzhinsky District Court of St. Petersburg arrested seven members of a criminal group who managed to embezzle over 500 million rubles from the budget through illegal VAT refunds. The list of suspects included Igor Kornienko, a former tax police officer; Svetlana Krotova, Head of the Cameral Tax Audits Department of the Inter-Regional Inspectorate № 9 for St. Petersburg of the FTS (charges against her were later dismissed); and former tax inspection officers Irina Parygina and Olga Bort.
According to experts, the total amount of VAT refunds in St. Petersburg is some 150–200 billion rubles per year; out of this sum, the amount of illegal refunds is at least 50 billion rubles.
As soon as Koryazina has become the Head of St. Petersburg tax service, she immediately started reforms to improve the agency performance and consolidate power in her hands. This has affected, first of all, Inter-District Inspectorates and their liaison with exporting companies. In the past, the arbitration court had the final word in VAT-related disputes between commercial companies and tax authorities, but in 2010 Koryazina has vested herself with this power. Of course, she did not annul the supremacy of law – she just decided to resolve such situations without going to court. Why an intermediary is needed if the tax authority can settle the issue with the business on its own?
Decisions of Inter-District Inspectorates related to VAT refunds to suspicious companies were not sent to courts anymore – but instead submitted to Koryazina for approval. For further convenience, a black list of companies to whom VAT was never refunded under any circumstances had been created – to the point that the tax authorities initiated swindling criminal cases against companies having privileged taxation status. The idea was that the company would either collapse due to legal costs or withdraw its tax refund claim.
The effectiveness of this scheme had been recognized even by Sergey Umnov, Head of the Russian MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. In particular, he told in his interview to Fontanka.ru that even though some businesses still submit claims to arbitration courts and sometimes win, they “fear to actually receive the money back”.
And the fears of businessmen were totally justified. Sometimes vague suspicions of tax inspectorates – who were tipping law enforcement authorities – were sufficient for a criminal case initiation. There was a mass influx of criminal cases related to attempted illegal VAT refunds (part 3 of Article 30 and part 4 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). These attempts – thanks to the vigilance of tax authorities – have failed, while the unlucky businessmen got real prison terms.
Sometimes decisions of arbitration courts were blatantly ignored. For example, in 2011 Sergey Yushenko, the former Principal General of Lenta trade chain, even had to address the ICR asking to prosecute Koryazina for non-compliance with the court decision. The arbitration court has ordered the Inter-District Inspectorate № 15 of the FTS to annul the record in the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities illegally making Yan Dyunning the new head of Lenta instead of Yushenko. However, the tax authority did not comply with the court decision. Yushenko repeatedly addressed Koryazina for clarification, but in vain.
There was another situation when the tax institution managed by Koryazina has not only ignored the court decision but acted as a solver itself. In November 2009 the Inter-District Inspectorate № 15, contrary to a court order, has updated information on a legal entity and registered its new director. The tax authority, therefore, supported one of the sides in a commercial dispute. The conflict was related to control over Simvol (Symbol) Closed Joint Stock Company and escalated between Mikhail Boyarsky, People's Artist of Russia, and businessman Aleksander Matt.
Simvol Closed Joint Stock Company was founded back in 1993. In 2000 Mikhail Boyarsky and his son Sergey became co-owners of the company. In 2003 Aleksander Matt became its shareholder as well. He had served a term in the 1980s for black marketeering; in the 1990s he was importing the legendary Royal alcohol to St. Petersburg. Apparently in that period he met Tambovskie gang – the criminal bosses of St. Petersburg. He had even run for a State Duma seat from the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, together with ‘criminal lord’ Mikhail Glushenko and repeated offender Mikhail Monastyrsky (died in 2007 in Switzerland). But unlike his colleagues, he was not elected. By the way, in 2009 Glushenko was arrested on Cyprus on suspicion of murder of ex-Deputy of the State Duma Vyacheslav Shevchenko, Yuri Zorin, and Valentina Tretyakova. In 2014 he confessed to the murder of Deputy of the State Duma Galina Starovoitova. He testified that the client who had ordered this killing was Vladimir Kumarin (Barsukov), the leader of Tambovskie organized crime group; in the 1990s Matt had often visited night restaurants of St. Petersburg together with him.
So, in 2009 Aleksander Matt has appointed himself the head of Simvol at his sole discretion. The Boyarsky family submitted a complaint on their partner to a prosecutor’s office. In turn, Matt wrote a letter to the MIA General Administration for the Northwest stating that there was a raiders’ takeover of the main asset of Simvol – Yuzhny Polyus (South Pole) trade center. Mikhail Boyarsky commented the situation in his interview to Fontanka.ru as follows: “What can I say if Matt dared to write a letter to Vladislav Piotrovsky, Head of the MIA General Administration, where he stated that my family is an organized crime group? Strange that he did not provide descriptions of the raiders: broadbrims, mustache, looking like musketeers. There were four of them, you say? … Yes! My son told me that Matt had called him recently, promised to reduce us to dust using your fellow journalists and named several high-ranked and well-known names, starting from the head of St. Petersburg tax service Koryazina and some other persons and finishing with Vice-Governor Oseevsky, claiming that they all support him.”
And indeed, some of the people named by Matt started actively helping him. How else could be explained that the tax authority has decided to cooperate not with police, but with an authoritative businessman? According to Sergey Boyarsky (son of the actor), when the MIA General Administration has learned that Matt was forging protocols of general meetings of Simvol board of directors using a fake seal, the police instructed the Inter-District Tax Inspectorate № 15 to notify them of any operations related to Simvol. However, when Matt submitted to the tax inspectorate an application to appoint himself the new principal general, his request was granted – while the police was not notified. The Boyarsky family has learned of this accidentally – a tax inspectorate officer mixed-up phone numbers and called them to advise that the documents are ready.
Mikhail and Sergey Boyarsky
A month later (in October 2009) the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region has forbidden the Inter-District Inspectorate № 15 for St. Petersburg of the Federal Tax Service to make any changes in the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities in relation to Simvol Closed Joint Stock Company. However, when Boyarsky has requested an extract from the register, he received the updated information.
The last entry in the history record of Simvol Closed Joint Stock Company dated October 29, 2009 was the appointment of a new principal general – Aleksey Timoshenko. Later the parties managed to settle the conflict by liquidating the assets. Accordingly, all the issues with the tax authority became irrelevant. The agency headed by Koryazina managed to get away clean that time.
Any businessman willing to avoid high legal costs had only one option: go cap in hand to Koryazina. In the past, only shady companies had to hope on their luck, but now even 100% clear businesses were eager to be removed from the Koryazina’s black list. By 2013, the database of ‘suspicious’ firms included 231 company. Following audits and investigations, only 8 shady businessmen were arrested, as well as 3 tax service officers. But Koryazina was advertising herself as an uncompromising fighter against illegal VAT refunds. She was also named the most influential women of St. Petersburg in 2012 by Delovoi Peterburg (Business Petersburg) periodical. According to her tax return for the last year, Koryazina is a pretty modest (against Russian standards) governmental official. Her annual income in 2015 slightly exceeded 4 million rubles. To compare: in 2013 it was some 1.3 million rubles, then it have been increasing with every year. She co-owns an apartment of 58.8 square meters and owns another apartment of 48.8 meters. She also has a cottage property, the lot size is 600 square meters. No personal car. However, all these declarations do not mention her husband – Nikolai Vitalyevich Koryazin, born 1958, – which is a violation of Article 8 of the Federal Law “On combating corruption.”
In the end of 2012 the Prosecutor’s Office of the Vyborgsky District of St. Petersburg alone has performed an analysis of VAT refunds and found that their total amount has increased more than twice; the Prosecutor’s Office noted that many refunds had specific features of illegal schemes. Following this audit, the MIA Administration for the Vyborgsky District has registered 15 materials, two of which resulted in initiation of criminal cases.
Another innovation of Koryazina was struggle against companies having different legal and actual addresses. The Russian Legislation does not impose any liability if a company is not present at its registration address. However, Koryazina requested banks to close accounts of such firms. The purpose of this campaign was to identify dummy companies, but it did not bring the intended effect. Bankers and lawyers knew that this requirement by the Federal Tax Service was illegal, and should an account be closed due to this reason, any court would take the client’s side because these breaches are not irremediable. And the bank would be penalized. Therefore, out of the 500 companies, only 7 have lost their accounts.
Some time ago, another outstanding lady – Yana Gurskaya – was working in the Federal Tax Service. In July 2012 she became the head of the Inter-District Inspectorate № 21. A mother of a large family (she is raising five children) and loving wife of millionaire Aleksander Stepanov, owner of Uniland company. Friends of that family were also pretty interesting people. One of them – Evgeny Paramonov – was the Head of Vesta SPB Limited Liability Company. This firm became famous for its numerous disputes with insurers. It used to lease construction machinery, insure it – and then the machinery was allegedly stolen (30 units of machinery have been stolen only during 2012). The disputes have reached the Superior Court of Arbitration, and ultimately the insurer – Renessans Strakhovanie (Renaissance Insurance), who had initiated a swindling criminal case – won.
Andrey Razgulyaev, another family friend, was arrested in June 2013 on suspicion of swindling with VAT and illegal banking activities. The investigation has found that in the period since October 2011 and until June 2013, Razgulyaev and his accomplices Yuri Pastukhov, Marina Murmantseva, and Olesya Alekseeva, acting in St. Petersburg on behalf of Stroy Craft Limited Liability Company, were purposively submitting to tax authorities fraudulent information on remitted value added tax amounts. As a result, more than 116 million rubles from the Russian budget ended up in their pockets. Razgulyaev was also charged with illegal cashing operations in the amount exceeding 178 million rubles.
Another person of interest that was linked with Stepanov at some point is Mark Bronovsky, Vice President of Sotrans group of companies. In February 2014 he was arrested on suspicion of illegal VAT refunds for 4 billion rubles. The investigation believes, however, that this was just a one-year profit – while the criminal scheme invented by Bronovsky had operated since 2008.
Marriage of Gurskaya and Stepanov (photo from Moskovskaya Zastava newspaper)
By the way, all these arrests occurred after the arrest of Stepanov. He was caught on a nonsense and sentenced to 12 years behind bars under part 3 of Article 33 and part 3 of Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Illegal Acquisition, Storage, Transportation of Narcotic Drugs). Stepanov was not a drug addict – he just tried to help his wife. The point is that in September 2013 Koryazina’s term of office as the Head of the St. Petersburg City Inspectorate of the Federal Tax Service of the Russian Federation was about to expire. Apparently, Yana Gurskaya hoped to get this post.
On September 4, 2013, early in the morning, drugs were found in an UAZ car pulled over in Kolpino. The 33-year-old driver was Vitaly Koryazin – son of the senior taxwoman of the city. Valentina Koryazina has two twin sons: Vitaly and Anatoly. Both are graduates from the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia – but Vitaly was an ordinary driver, while Anatoly worked in the Administration of the Nevsky District of St. Petersburg. In the period of 2004–2011 he was Deputy Head of the Department for Debt Settlement and Bankruptcy Procedures Control in the institution headed by his mother.
Of course, the investigation linked the found drugs with the mother’s profession and started exploring this venue. From the other side, Valentina Koryazina, like any mother, has put all efforts to protect her son and engaged all her connections. The situation was ‘settled down’ with involvement of Sergey Litvinenko, the Prosecutor of St. Petersburg; Andrei Ruchyev, Head of the FSB Directorate; and Sergey Umnov, Head of the Russian MIA General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. And indeed, the available evidence indicated a frame-up: the seized drug was a very rare, unusual amphetamine; tests showed that the young man was clear and never used drugs; and video records showed that in the night before his arrest, some people were doing something around his car. The perfect performance of the Federal Drug Control Service also looked suspicious: they knew exactly where and when to look for drugs.
It turned out that the Federal Drug Control Service has received a tip from a former police officer; some prison friends of Aleksander Stepanov (he served a term in 2000 for swindling) suggested this idea to him. When investigators approached the ex-officer, he began telling them interesting stories and claimed that he knows about corruption schemes in the Federal Tax Service. According to the former policeman, he has disrupted the shady incomes, and then some people offered him to join their criminal conspiracy to resume schemes involving illegal VAT refunds – but he refused. He repeatedly mentioned Valentina Koryazina and suggested that it was her revenge to him.
Apparently, this was an attempted interdepartmental coup d’etat (or perhaps, a clash of different clans). In any event, Koryazina has won this round – Stepanov was sentenced to a prison term, while Gurskaya had to resign.
In less than three years, Vadim Potomsky, Governor of the Orel Region, became involved into so many scandals that rumors about his upcoming dismissal circulate persistently. Furthermore, the region under his rule has made a mark during the live teleconference with the President: a complaint made by Orel resident Klavdia Stavtseva became one of the most high-profile episodes of the broadcast. What could be the next twist in the career of Potomsky?