Federal Customs Service is to be under complete control of Federal Security Service

Federal Customs Service is to be under complete control of Federal Security Service
Photo: A. Savin

The new Head of department has received a hit list of 11 names.

On August 9, the former Head of the Federal Customs Service (FTS) Andrey Belyaninov came to the main building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on Bolshaya Lubyanka, took the elevator to the 4th floor, turned down the corridor to the right, and knocked on the nearest door. This was a spacious room he knew well, its windows facing the nondescript courtyard and the dome of St. Sophia Church. For the last seven years Belyaninov had been a regular guest there, in the office of the head of the FSB Economic Security Service (SEB) Yuri Yakovlev. According to some of Yakovlev’s friends, Belyaninov developed quite a friendly relationship with him.

However, on that day it was probably the first time Belyaninov felt insecure there – he was received by the new head of SEB FSB Sergey Korolev, appointed by presidential decree this July amid a scandal in St. Petersburg, which revealed a major smuggling channel.

The conversation between Belyaninov and Korolev, which FSB called preventive, took about an hour and a half. It remains unknown what exactly the two had discussed, but by studying the events which followed, it can be assumed that Belyaninov and several people close to him had received guarantees of immunity from Lubyanka.

In the following week, a businessman close to the former head of the FTS, Sergey Lobanov, whose future had recently looked foggy at best, returned to Moscow from the Lithuanian town of Palanga. Back in the beginning of August, the official representative of the Russian Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin said that Lobanov may become a defendant in the criminal case. At the same time, Belyaninov himself turned out to be among the contenders for the post of head of the Eurasian Development Bank.

A movie with bad ending

"Once Andrey Yurievich [Belyaninov] even shouted at Yakovlev: "Yuri Vladimirovich, calm your subordinates! I am personally responsible to the president for the customs," an FSB officer said about the meeting two years ago, during which FTS ex-leader lashed out at the 7th Division of the K Directorate of the SEB FSB (the unit to combat smuggling and corruption in customs agencies), which needed calming down.

Ironically, it was the operatives of this unit, along with the Internal Security Department (USB) of the FSB, which is considered the most powerful in the state security system, who carried out searches in the premises of the Federal Customs Service in the Novozavodskaya Street in the end of July. Apart from Belyaninov’s office, the security officers searched his two country estates — in the village of Konakovo, Tver Region, and in the village of Bachurino, New Moscow. The operational and investigative activities were conducted as part of the criminal case of smuggling alcohol, investigated by the ICR with USB FSB.

The smuggling charges in this case were made against a St. Petersburg businessman Dmitry Mikhalchenko, who is already in the Lefortovo prison, chief of his security service Boris Korevskoy, director of the South-East Trading Company Ilya Pichko, and the deputy director of Kontreyl Logistic North-West Anatoly Kindzersky.

The pre-trial agreement of the latter, who gave incriminating testimony against his high-ranking patrons, became the basis for the high-profile investigative actions into the FTS. In addition to Belyaninov’s office and houses, the investigators searched the workplaces of two of his deputies — Andrey Strukov and Ruslan Davydov — and the office of the Arsenal insurance company, which belongs to the businessman Sergey Lobanov, who is close to the Head of the FTS.

Two days after the searches, Andrey Belyaninov was dismissed from office by decree of the Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Opening a special conference for this occasion, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich thanked Andrey Belyaninov for effective work "on behalf of the President," and introduced the new head of the Federal Customs Service — presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Vladimir Bulavin.

"First, I would like to thank my predecessor. Let us put our hands together for him," Bulavin gave Belyaninov ovation, smiling all the way. The former head of the Federal Customs Service thanked the government and the president for the trust and wished good luck to his successor.

The next day Belyaninov was taken to hospital and diagnosed with hypertensive crisis.

"He is a fighter; he has always been able to take a punch. But no matter how tough you are, a punch cannot be handled if a bunch of scumbags hit you with a crowbar from behind," a businessman familiar with Belyaninov sharply commented after his hospitalization and asked the following question: "If the country's leadership is expressing gratitude for work through the Deputy Prime Minister, then what was it with all this circus?"

"This was all done for the movie," said a federal official familiar with Belyaninov, referring to the reports on national television about the results of a search in Belyaninov’s house. There the security officials found wads of cash in Russian and foreign currencies, and the pictures of them were posted on the Internet on the same day.

"Of course, it was just a movie. In the end, nothing was seized from either Belyaninov or Lobanov. For instance, about 40 thousand dollars were found in the office of the Arsenal insurance company on the Leningradsky Prospekt — they have not been seized either," said a businessman familiar with Lobanov.

However, this movie had a completely different purpose — it served as an exterior of a major reform of the FTS, announced by Vladimir Putin earlier this year and conducted by the FSB.

Publicly, the President instructed the government to develop a mechanism for withdrawal of fiscal power from the FTS in favor of the Federal Tax Service, while non-publicly — to increase the FSB’s anti-smuggling efforts.

For example, Vladimir Bulavin, who had been recommended by the Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev (after the Head of the presidential administration Sergey Ivanov left his office, Patrushev can be considered the most influential enforcer of the country), to our knowledge, was appointed head of the FTS in the status of the acting FSB officer.

More staff officers from Lubyanka may now follow him to the key position in the FTS.

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Photo: building of the Federal Customs Service

Federal Customs Service Vs. Federal Security Service

The active rivalry between the customs service and the security officers can be considered perhaps the most protracted and bitter. Exactly 16 years ago, in August 2000, employees of the State Customs Committee (GTK) closed the Tri Kita furniture store and confiscated furniture supplied under the guise of plywood. At the time, the criminal investigation, led by the Investigative Committee of the Interior Ministry, established that acting FSB officers had been involved in the smuggling.

This led to a serious inter-agency conflict, with the Deputy Head of the presidential administration for personnel policy Viktor Ivanov and head of SEB FSB Yuri Zaostrovtsev on the one side, and the GTK chairman Mikhail Vanin and Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo on the other side.

Since then, the leaders of the GTK, which later was renamed to FTS, had repeatedly clashed with the generals from Lubyanka.

The president’s former brother-in-arms for German Democratic Republic, Andey Belyaninov, was appointed in May 2006 as head of the FTS. By that time, he had a chance to work at Novikombank, Rosoboronexport, and Rosoboronzakaz. Belyaninov was supposed to become the person, who could reconcile the warring parties. Besides, Vladimir Putin’s reinforced control over the customs involved appointing an SEB FSB seconded employee Igor Zavrazhny as Belyaninov’s deputy.

However, Belyaninov, according to an FSB member, was against any curators from Lubyanka from the very beginning: "He brought to the FTS his security officers: a former colleague Sergey Lobanov, a native of the 9th Directorate of the KGB Alexander Romanov, a Foreign Intelligence Service officer Vladimir Malinin, an assistant from Rosoboronzakaz Sergey Komlichenko, and a trusted employee of Novikombank Alexander Povstyanoy. Given that Igor [Zavrazhny] almost immediately began to oversee the entire law enforcement unit of the customs, he and Belyaninov started to clash."

At the same time, according to the source, Zavrazhny tied the hands of SEB FSB, with its members unable to fully employ the revealed information about embezzlement in the customs authorities.

In 2008, the conflict between Belyaninov and Zavrazhny deteriorated. It happened after the seconded FSB general employed the operational materials about the theft of 10 million dollars during the purchase of mobile individual inspection systems by the FTS from the German company Heimann.

The response was not long in coming: Belyaninov handed the leadership of the FSB the information about the involvement of Zavrazhny’s subordinates in smuggling consumer goods through St. Petersburg, most of which arrived at the Cherkizovsky market.

"Why nobody is in prison?" Prime Minister Vladimir Putin asked in 2009, talking to the management of the security agencies. In a short period of time, the FSB conducted a number of actions, which became known as the case of Cherkizon.

The discredited Igor Zavrazhny was recalled by order of the FSB head Alexander Bortnikov, and the unit of seconded employees (APS) almost ceased to exist in the FTS, as an FSB source reminded. "Such are the twists of fate: Belyaninov managed to eliminate the FSB general from the FTS with the help of the FSB itself," the source said.

Having bid farewell to Zavrazhny, Belyaninov organized a major cleanup: some employees of the SEB FSB returned to Lubyanka, while some resigned from the FSB and continued to serve in the FTS.

Among those who had chosen to drop the positions of security officer, had also been the then head of the legal department of the customs Andrey Strukov, whose office was also searched the by the USB FSB this July. "But Strukov was not a stranger to Belyaninov, they had previously worked in Rosoboronexport, where Strukov was seconded from the FSB military counterintelligence department," an FSB officer said.

However, the source continued, when Igor Zavrazhny and other APS members left, it freed the hands of SEB FSB, which has since started making massive attacks against the employees of the regional customs offices and the central unit of the FTS.

"It came to a point, when in a year, the 7th Directorate K managed to take the lead in the number of prepared materials related to smuggling and corruption in customs. However, almost none of them led to sentences for the inner circle of the head of the FTS," said an FSB officer.

Directions to investigate

The new head of the FTS Vladimir Bulavin, according to the FSB officer, intends to closely examine the two directions of the former management’s actions — the state purchases made by the Central Information and Technology Administration of Customs and the Main Department of the FTS Logistic Support, and the centers for electronic declaration (CED) implemented by Andrey Belyaninov.

The last direction is of particular interest, said the FSB officer.

"Before CED was introduced in 2011, the goods had been imported at a checkpoint and received customs clearance at the place of delivery. But at some point the FTS management decided to implement a new technology that allows to distinguish the place of actual importation of the goods from the place of customs clearance. Officially, this was done in order to facilitate customs clearance for the importer. In practice, it helped to conceal contraband. A common example is when a container is imported through a certain checkpoint in Vladivostok, with the declaration for it supplied to a CED in Mozhaisk. In this case, the container is used for transporting Chinese clothing, while the submitted declaration states laminate flooring. The CED staff cannot and do not have to check the contents of the container, while the inspectors in Vladivostok are seven time zones away from the CED. Thus, to detect false declaration, the law enforcers need to carry out inspections both in Vladivostok and in Mozhaisk. This scheme is flawless for avoiding a possible criminal case," stressed the FSB officer.

The expert claims that another interesting topic for the FSB is the institute of authorized economic operators (UEO): "The companies included in the UEO registry had been provided with unique conditions — by providing a bank guarantee in the amount of 1 million euros, they were exempt from the obligation to submit a declaration at the time of the actual release of goods for free circulation. They were allowed to declare goods on the 10th of the following month after the importation. That is, when importing a container of clothes under the guise of fabric, without any kind of declaration, the smugglers did not risk being caught. During the last operational activities, law enforcers found reports of privileged operators, which underestimated the customs value and substituted the nomenclature of goods. Those operators received from 2 to 5 thousand dollars for smuggling a single container."

In addition, the FTS can check the alienation of the property on the balance of the Rostek federal State Unitary Enterprise in favor of the individual businessmen close to the customs leadership. According to sources in the FSB, security officials are especially concerned by the stepson of Belyaninov’s former colleague Sergey Lobanov, a businessman Sergey Lobanov Jr. "Having started working in the area of businesses related to the customs, Lobanov became the owner of large shares of the Arsneal insurance group, Nefteprombank, the Moldovan bank Victoria, and a concessionaire of Chisinau Airport," the source said.

However, according to the businessman’s friend, Lobanov is currently located in Moscow, he heads his companies, and have never been called in for questioning. "Sergey’s business has been indeed tightly integrated into the system of customs regulation, which can hardly please the new leadership — after all, he is not their man. At the same time, it is impossible to simply review the agreements with the Arsenal insurance company, since hundreds of trucking companies are insured there. And the volume of obligations that these carriers have to pay in customs duties to the FTS equals about 11.5 billion rubles," he said.

The hit list

On August 16, a week after the visit of Andrey Belyaninov to Lubyanka, the head of SEB FSB Sergey Korolev gave the new head of the FTS Vladimir Bulavin two lists with the data on his subordinates. The first list has about 80 names — the fate of these people supposedly depends on Bulavin’s personal will. The second list, which the FTS dubbed as "the hit list," contains 11 names — these people will allegedly leave their posts until mid-September. Moreover, some of them can be prosecuted. "The Head of anti-corruption office Franz Avgustinovich, the first Deputy Head of the FTS Vladimir Malinin, the Head of the Central Customs Administration Sergey Prusov, all of the main department of customs clearance, the Deputy Head of the FTS Tatyana Golendeeva, the deputy head of the FTS Andrey Strukov, head of the analytical department Filip Zolotnitsky," the FSB officer listed some people from the hit list."

According to our information, their positions and the positions of the heads of the Main Department to Combat Smuggling, the Office of Special Technical Measures, and the regional operational customs will be taken by active FSB officers on the basis of a closed interdepartmental order of the FSB and the FTS about the appointment of seconded FSB staff of the B category (with the obligation to conduct investigative work in the agency).

However, the current employees of the FTS felt these changes even before the upcoming appointments. The day after Sergey Korolev’s visit, a sign appeared on the door of Vladimir Bulavin’s office — "Entry with folders for documents only. No suitcases, cell phones, or other electronic devices."

"It is not the FSB that came back to us. It is we who have become part of the FSB," concluded a customs officer.

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