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Aleksey Dobrynin on customs investigators

Searches in the Federal Customs Service headquarters, as well as at Vnukovo and Domodedovo customs are connected to an investigation with regard to ‘individual officers’, the Federal Customs Service told Izvestia. The law-enforcement agencies haven’t officially commented on the situation of the moment of publication. However, according to a source familiar with the Federal Customs Service, the investigative actions are connected with ‘major fraudulent schemes’. According to him, the case was initiated under art. 159 of the Criminal Code of the RF ‘Fraud’ and may be linked to attempts to smuggle undeclared currency across the border.

A currency case

Four FCS department heads at once were detained by the police earlier this week. According to REN TV’s version, we are probably talking about the Head of Directorate of Customs Inquiry and Investigation Lieutenant General Aleksandr Kizlyk, Deputy Head of Vnukovo Customs Konstantin Mishin and Deputy Head of Domodedovo Customs Yury Cherkashin. Mr. Kizlyk’s deputy Aleksey Serebro is also among defendants in the case.

The Federal Customs Service refused to name the detained; however they confirmed the fact of searches which took place on December 23.

‘Investigative actions are being taken with regard to individual officers of the FCS of Russia’, the agency told Izvestia. ‘At the moment the FCS does not have any further information.’

An Izvestia’s source linked the searches to investigation of the criminal case on fraud on an especially large scale, which had been initiated in late November against a former transport police officer. According to the investigation, Nina Salnikova, Deputy Head of the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Transport Directorate of the MIA for the Central Federal District, sheltered illegal traffic activities. She was sentenced to house arrest, and her court hearing took place in a private mode without the media or attendees. This was motioned for by the investigator due to the fact that ‘not all persons involved in the crime have been identified.’ It is known that Salnikova engaged in scientific activity and is an author of articles on provocation during sting operations published in specialized magazines.

An Izvestia’s source familiar with the customs confirmed that the criminal case was initiated under art. 159 of the Criminal Code of the RF.

‘The crimes were identified in the course of investigation of a different case connected with business jets. All defendants are under investigation,’ the source says.

According to him, most likely the FCS officers are suspected of approval of the decision to re-qualify cases against passengers who smuggled undeclared currency.

‘There are indeed a number of problems with currency. There are situations when a passenger goes abroad with a large sum of money, e. g. $30 thousand, and just forgets to declare it, having no idea of the serious consequences. But the customs officers confiscate this money and initiate a criminal case. Objectively such cases should definitely be re-qualified as administrative ones. However sometimes cases are re-qualified non-objectively,’ an Izvestia’s source notes.

The press office of Moscow Interregional Investigative Directorate on Transport of the Investigative Committee of the RF told Izvestia that the investigation of the case against Vnukovo and Domodedovo customs officers is not conducted by them. Another source specified that the case is being processed by the central office of the Investigative Committee of Russia and that the crimes are linked to illegal transit of currency.

The customs investigators do process criminal cases on the facts of smuggling of cash and customs fee evasion, Aleksey Dobrynin, Partner of Pen & Paper Attorneys at law, told Izvestia.

‘With regard to all other crimes in the customs sphere ‘local’ investigators only take urgent investigative actions,’ he said. ‘Illegal actions of the FCS officers during investigation, depending on the circumstances, may be qualified as abuse of office, bribe-taking, fraud, illegal discharge from criminal liability or holding a knowingly innocent person criminally liable.’

Quite often, the expert noted, the FCS investigators hold people criminally liable due to their own intentional failure to discover the full amount of undeclared currency.

It is known that General Kizlyk was the Prosecutor of Ryazan region from 1996 to 2001. Then he was the head of Directorate for Supervision of Procedural Activity of Internal Affairs and Justice Authorities in the General Prosecutor’s Office. As a Prosecutor he made important decisions on a number of notable cases of last decade, including the case on embezzlement of shares of Serevnaya Tselluloza holding. He used to be a candidate for the capital’s prosecutor.

In 2004 at his position in the General Prosecutor’s Office he was awarded the Order of Honour ‘for achievements in strengthening of lawfulness and legal order’, and later he resigned to serve in the FCS. According to his declaration, the officer owns an apartment of 132 square meters and over the last year he earned a little over 3.3 mn rubles. His deputy Aleksey Serebro, who is mentioned by some sources in connection with the scandal in the FCS, earned a little over 2.5 mn rubles over the same period.

A problematic service

It is noteworthy that the para-customs structures have been in disarray for the last couple of years.

Earlier, on December 17, the Investigative Committee of Russia announced submission to court of a case against the former deputy head of Moscow Regional Customs of the FCS charged with attempted fraud. Denis Rudenko is the defendant in this case.

A high-profile scandal took place in February 2019 when a criminal case was initiated against the Head of the Initial Investigation Department of the FCS Sergey Galenkov. He was charged with bride-taking in the amount of $140 thousand. It was also specified that his deputy was another defendant in the case.

It is noteworthy that Galenkov’s immediate superior was Kizlyk. Galenkov was investigated by the Economic Security Service officers of the Federal Security Service of Russia and the Directorate of the Federal Security Service of Bryansk region. According to the investigation, on February 8, 2017 a customs representative of a private company submitted to Aleksandrovsky checkpoint of Bryansk customs a declaration with false information on shoe products, with the intent to reduce the amount of the customs fee. Allegedly, in order to settle this issue, the company contacted Galenkov.

The most notorious scandal in the directorate was linked to the former support commander Nikolay Chechun. He was investigated as to his involvement in large-scale embezzlement during renovation of the service’s buildings. He was not held criminally liable, but was dismissed from service.

A member of the State Duma Security and Anti-Corruption Committee Anatoly Vyborny thinks that the FCS administration is taking all the necessary measures to make the customs service as transparent as possible in terms of lawfulness of its procedures.

‘Much is digitalized now in order to minimize the human factor,’ he explained to Izvestia. ‘But  most importantly, in recent years the focus has been shifting towards HR policy, the heads of structural units have to not only meet the professional requirements, but also possess certain moral qualities.’

According to the parliamentarian, the new case against the FCS officers is a striking example of inevitability of punishment for the crimes they have committed.