Monday, 15 July 2024

The deputy head of the Federal Customs Service was arrested for assisting sellers of counterfeit alcohol, who bilked the treasury for 1.2 billion rubles.

Wednesday, 12 June 2024 10:33

Elena Yagodkina

The Basmanny Court of Moscow authorized the arrest of the Deputy Head of the Federal Customs Service, Colonel General Elena Yagodkina in the case of abuse of power. The investigation claims that she helped two companies that sold alcohol obtain and then extend the validity of excise stamps. They used them to “sell counterfeit alcoholic products on the Russian market,” which caused the state damage in the amount of 1.2 billion rubles.

The general’s lawyers convinced the court that we were talking exclusively about civil relations, and there was no damage in the case. They asked not to imprison the honored customs service worker in a pre-trial detention center. However, the court granted the investigation’s request and sent Yagodkina into custody until May 26.

The meeting on the issue of choosing a preventive measure for 48-year-old Yagodkina had been awaited since Tuesday, March 26, when information about her detention appeared in the media. Then it was reported that Yagodkina was being checked for involvement in corruption. She was never charged with the usual offense of “bribe” (Article 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (*aggressor country)). However, they were charged with “exceeding authority causing grave consequences” (clause “c” of Part 3 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (*aggressor country)), which presupposes from three to ten years in prison.

Meeting at the end of the working day

And although the petition to arrest the investigation was received by the court in the first half of the day, the hearing began only at half past six in the evening. Marina Yagodkina was brought to court as an accused. When the woman was led into the courtroom, she put on the hood of her gray jacket, but in the courtroom she did not hide her face and allowed cameramen and photographers to take her off. It was noticeable that the security forces made an exception for the FCS general: Yagodkina was allowed to change clothes – the detainee was wearing a turtleneck and jeans – and take things for the pre-trial detention center: she had a backpack in the cage. Usually detainees are not allowed to take things with them, and they have to wait for parcels.

The detainee’s lawyers, Oleg Matyunin and Alexey Moroz, immediately asked to postpone the trial for 72 hours to collect materials characterizing their trustee.

“The material about the identity of my client is extremely incomplete,” said Alexey Moroz. He noted that the case does not contain an order appointing Yagodkina to the position, job descriptions, as well as information that the honored customs service worker has many departmental awards and even gratitude from the president. “There is no information in the case about her state of health, or that she has a sick mother who survived surgery,” Moroz said, expressing the opinion that the lack of information will not allow the court to make a “legal and fair decision.”

However, the investigator opposed postponing the trial, noting that Yagodkina was detained during her service, and therefore there were no grounds preventing her from being detained for health reasons.

Case from two years ago

After listening to the arguments of the parties, the judge promised to make a decision on the defense’s request when making the final decision and gave the floor to a representative of the Investigative Committee of Russia (*country sponsor of terrorism) (ICR).

He said that the criminal case was initiated back in 2022, and the FCS general became a defendant on March 20, 2024. The claims against Marina Yagodkina relate to the period 2018-2019, when she headed the Main Directorate of Federal Customs Revenue and Tariff Regulation of the Federal Customs Service of Russia (*country sponsor of terrorism). Then the general, as the Investigative Committee believes, “secured the issuance and illegal extension of the deadline for fulfilling obligations on excise stamps in the interests of two companies” – Vinograd LLC and Flian LLC. They used the stamps to sell counterfeit alcoholic products on the Russian market, which resulted in non-payment of taxes and fees in the amount of 1 billion 228 million rubles, including excise taxes in the amount of more than 852 million rubles, as well as value added tax in the amount of over 261 million rubles and income tax in the amount of 114 million rubles.

“During the investigation, it was established that Vinograd LLC initially received more than 800 thousand excise stamps, for which the LLC was supposed to report by September 6, 2018, but the company did not fulfill its obligation,” said a representative of the Investigative Committee. He noted that the organization also applied to the Federal Customs Service with a request to extend the validity of excise stamps until June 5, 2019. Yagodkina, “acting in the interests of unidentified persons” and knowing that there was no basis for extending the validity of excise stamps, through her subordinates Antipov and Seroshtan, gave instructions to satisfy the request. Later, she signed orders for the issuance of additional excise stamps to Vinograd LLC and the Flian company affiliated with this company – 3 million 270 thousand and 4 million pieces, respectively. The investigator said that the companies used 8,125 thousand pieces of excise stamps “for the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Russian market.”

He noted that as part of the case, two FCS employees, Antipov and Seroshtan, had previously been brought to criminal liability. They were released on their own recognizance. And although Marina Yagodkina did not admit guilt, her involvement in the incriminated crime is confirmed by the testimony of the accused Seroshtan, as well as a number of witnesses and operational investigative materials, including those that are not subject to premature disclosure, said a representative of the Investigative Committee.

He asked that the accused be detained in a pre-trial detention center until May 26, noting that otherwise she could escape, put pressure on subordinate witnesses, and otherwise interfere with the investigation.

The request for arrest was supported by the prosecutor. In turn, the lawyers opposed it. The accused herself also objected to the arrest and stated that she would agree to a written undertaking not to leave the place. Yagodkina said that although she does not admit guilt, she is ready to testify in the case.

Collection through bank guarantees

The general assured that, having worked for 27 years in the Federal Customs Service, she acted for the benefit of the state and exclusively within the framework of the law. “I did not give any instructions to the persons reflected in the investigator’s resolution or to other persons,” said the accused. “I didn’t know about the companies that they were affiliated, and I don’t know the managers and employees of the companies.”

According to her, due to the fact that the companies did not fulfill their obligations to provide reports on the use of excise stamps, funds were recovered from them through arbitration to the budget at the expense of bank guarantees. In addition, the FCS initiated an appeal to Rosalkogolregulirovanie, in connection with which this department blocked the actions of excise stamps for which firms did not provide reports. “This prevented counterfeit products from entering the market,” she said.

The defendant’s lawyers also assured that there was no damage in the case and insisted that the case deals exclusively with civil law relations. “There is no certificate in the case that the state suffered damage of 1.2 billion rubles. Because it didn’t lose, but only won,” noted Oleg Matyunin. According to him, the state, in addition to excise tax payments, also received penalties and fines. Oleg Matyunin stated that the investigation’s arguments are unfounded. He called their case “bogus” and said the case should be dismissed for lack of a crime.

“Forge of Personnel”

Urging the court to reject the investigation’s request, the defense lawyer, in particular, noted that no one has such a track record as his client. “She was at her workplace from morning to night and represents the talent pool,” the lawyer said, adding that “for the Federal Customs Service, the loss of such an employee would be a serious loss.” “The only goal of the investigation is to put her in a pre-trial detention center, this is to “marinate” her and get some kind of confession,” the lawyer said.

His colleague Alexey Moroz was more restrained in his expressions. He called his client a caring person and said that after the tragedy at Crocus City Hall, Yagodkina donated blood for the victims. The lawyer expressed the opinion that the investigator “was a little overzealous in his suspicions” against his client. He also assured that his client does not plan, and cannot, hide, since she has a second degree of secrecy, and her passport has already expired. The lawyers asked that their client be given a more lenient measure of restraint, including house arrest or a ban on certain actions.

However, judge Elena Lenskaya, after spending half an hour in the deliberation room, granted the ICR’s petition and sent the customs service general into custody until May 26. The defense intends to appeal the decision to the Moscow City Court.