Chamber of Audit goes for North Western Customs Directorate
The main political event of this year in St. Petersburg – gubernatorial election – sends a clear message to officials: by the time of inauguration of the new city head, all enforcement structures must be put on full combat alert, especially the services responsible for the replenishment of the city budget. The Federal Tax Service has already been affected by changes. Now the auditors have come to the customs.
In fact, rainy days have begun for the North Western Customs Directorate much earlier. Back in October 2018, a commission was dispatched there by the Prosecutor General’s Office. As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, the visit of prosecutors was caused by numerous complaints from businessmen. The auditors were primarily interested in operations of the following customs stations: Baltic, Vyborg, Kingisepp, and Pulkovo. In the last two years, these stations were repeatedly involved in criminal scandals, including arrests of such prominent brokers as Igor Khavronov, billionaire Dmitry Mikhalchenko, etc. Then the North Western Customs Directorate itself was shaken by high-profile arrests. First, operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation have escorted for questioning Sergei Slepukhin, Head of Kingisepp Customs Station. Then the apartment of Aleksander Bezlyudsky, Deputy Head of the North Western Customs Directorate, was searched.
The majority of the people involved in that story had no doubt that the primary target of the law enforcement structures was Aleksander German, Head of the North Western Customs Directorate, – Slepukhin was his creature, while Bezlyudsky – deputy. As it is known, the disgraced general has ultimately lost his post. Aleksander Povod, ex-Head of Sheremetyevo Customs Station, became the new Head of the North Western Customs Directorate, while Aleksander Getman was terminated "for loss of trust".
In late 2018, the sources had predicted such a scenario: the threat of criminal prosecution ‘washes out’ many officials from the customs ranks, and ‘right’ persons from Moscow replace them. As a result, totally different people are going to take control over the goods traffic and cargo flows.
The threat of an expansion from Moscow had been looming over the St. Petersburg horizon for a while. Up until recently, nobody could believe that such things are possible. But now the opinions have changed. Moscow resident Povod is in charge of the North Western Customs Directorate. An unassailable fortress – the General Administration for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation – has fallen. As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, Moscow general Roman Plugin arbitrarily rules it now.
The sources comment on these personnel reshuffles as follows: “This is done to redivide the market and redirect flows. Valuable cargoes will likely be cleared at Moscow stations. Ultimately, St. Petersburg will be used only for transshipment of cheap goods”.
According to the sources, the recent audit of the North Western Customs Directorate by the Prosecutor General's Office has brought some results – but failed short of the full picture of the internal situation in the agency. Prosecutors admit that "customs officials masterfully cover the traces" and demonstrate togetherness in front of the audit threat. Apparently, outsider Aleksander Povod is not aware of all secrets of his customs directorate yet – while his subordinates are unwilling to share those.
Crime and punishment
At the expanded all-Russia conference of customs authorities held on April 23, 2019, it became known that the Chamber of Audit is going to dispatch its inspectors to the North Western Customs Directorate. Vladimir Bulavin, Head of the Federal Customs Service of Russia, Deputy Minister of Finance Ilya Trunin, Aleksei Sazanov, Director of the Department of Tax and Customs Policy of the Ministry of Finance, Daniil Egorov, Deputy Head of the Federal Tax Service, and other functionaries of the Federal Customs Service had discussed actual issues faced by the customs structures. Aleksander Povod, Head of the North Western Customs Directorate, was the only person at that conference aware of the searches and arrests of his deputies.
This is not the first large-scale inspection of the North Western Customs Directorate carried out by the Chamber of Audit. Back in 2010, the agency was checked by prosecutors – who asked auditors to assist them in sorting out documents and balancing the figures. The Chamber of Audit has identified numerous violations committed in the North Western Customs Directorate and customs stations subordinate to it. The audit included verification of the accuracy and timeliness of charges and completeness of transfers of customs fees paid by traders importing and exporting goods to the federal budget – i.e. the auditors were checking whether customs officials quietly rob the state or not.
In March 2019, the customs bodies subordinate to the North Western Customs Directorate have collected customs and other fees for the total amount of 53.06 billion rubles ($818.5 million), including 52.43 billion rubles ($808.8 million) in import fees and 200 million rubles ($3.1 million) in export fees.
Baltic Customs Station collects 67.21% of all fees received in the Northwestern Federal District, St. Petersburg Customs Station – 16.50%, Kingisepp Customs Station – 5.44%, and Vyborg Customs Station – 3.77% of the total fees.
The following customs stations of the Northwestern Federal District are to be audited: Baltic, Vyborg, Kingisepp, and Pulkovo. Reportedly, Baltic and Vyborg Customs Stations are to be scrutinized especially strictly. Based on the audit results, heads of these stations are expected to be replaced.
The previous audit results were devastating for the Baltic Customs Station. In 2016, the scope of smuggling and violations at the Baltic Customs Station was beyond all limits. The audit showed that the customs practices were inadequate in the zone controlled by the Baltic Customs Station. The commission dispatched by the Federal Customs Service of Russia recognized unsatisfactory the management and law enforcement aspects of operations run by the Baltic Customs Station, as well as its custom clearance procedures and customs control of goods and means of transportation. It is unclear what the agency ruled by major general Sergei Sen’ko is going to do in such a situation.
Staff changes have already begun in the North Western Customs Directorate. For instance, on April 17, 2019, lieutenant colonel of the customs service Liya Viktorovna Kozachenko, Head of the Legal Service of the North Western Customs Directorate, was appointed a Deputy Head of the North Western Customs Directorate.
The auditors are facing a serious challenge – they have to check the results of the rule of Alexander Getman. In 2018, the North Western Customs Directorate gained a notorious reputation nationwide. Vyborg was full of leaflets describing the scheme used to smuggle sanctioned goods into Russia. According to the anonymous authors, the Head of Torfyanovka Automobile Border Crossing Checkpoint was the leader of a criminal group maintaining ties with thieves-in-law, while Aleksander Yastrebov, Head of Vyborg Customs Station, had covered up his operations. Then somebody brought a coffin and left it in front of the Vyborg Customs Station. Reportedly, this was a cry for help from traders fed up with the ongoing lawlessness and collapse of the customs industry. Yastrebov was a henchman of Getman – so, the auditors are going to pay close attention to this customs station.
In that situation, the Vyborg Customs Station has held a few days ago an extended session of its management to summarize the results of its work for the year of 2018 and identify objectives for the first half of 2019. Evgeny Kalinkin, Acting Deputy Head of the North Western Customs Directorate, Ivan Shalyapin, Head of the Organizational and Inspection Service of the North Western Customs Directorate, Transport Prosecutor Aleksander Ganikhin, and other functionaries have attended that session.
Aleksander Yastrebov, Head of Vyborg Customs Station
The Head of the Vyborg Customs Station has reported to the superior officials that the weight of cleared goods has increased from 2.2 million tons in 2017 to 2.5 million tons in 2018 (i.e. by 13%). Aleksander Yastrebov has also assured the audience that the Vyborg Customs Station is going to continue improving its practices in 2019. According to seasoned customs officers, such statements indicate that the boss faces a real threat of termination.
The forthcoming visit of Aleksei Kudrin’s auditors was announced on April 15 – but the exact date of their arrival remains unknown yet. Most probably, the inspectors are going to arrive either after the May holidays or in early summer. In other words, perfect order has to be established in the agency before the inauguration of the new Governor, while the budget replenishment scheme must be up and running.