Tax Official Jailed Over $3M Bribe

An investigator in the city police's tax crime department has been arrested on suspicion of trying to extort more than $3 million from a local businessman, authorities and the businessman's lawyer said.

The Simonovsky District Court on Saturday sanctioned the arrest of police investigator Andrei Seryapin and the head of a private security firm on suspicion of fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion, Moscow City Court spokeswoman Marina Malygina said Tuesday.

Malygina declined to give further details, as did officials from the city police, the Interior Ministry and the Investigative Committee. But according to accounts from law enforcement sources and the purported victim's lawyer cited by Kommersant on Tuesday, the businessman was ensnared in a Kafkaesque web of graft and mounting greed.

On Nov. 20, police raided the central Moscow offices of the credit brokerage company MFA and the auditing firm FKG Delta, said Olga Tregub, lawyer for Dmitry Danilov, who owns both companies, Kommersant reported.

Acting on Seryapin's orders, police seized documents and computer hard drives from the offices, ostensibly because the companies had links to a construction company, DKN, suspected of dodging 2 million rubles ($83,000) in taxes.

Perplexed over suspected links to the construction firm, which he had never heard of, Danilov asked an old acquaintance, city police investigator Vitaly Lazarchuk, to look into the matter, Tregub told Kommersant.

Tregub could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But she told the newspaper that Lazarchuk subsequently became an accomplice in the extortion of her client.

Lazarchuk said he looked into the matter and told Danilov he was to be arrested, Tregub said. But he put Danilov in touch with a friend of a police general who said the businessman could have the investigation dropped and have his seized property returned by paying a 40 million ruble ($1.6 million) bribe, she said.

Danilov paid the bribe because his businesses had been paralyzed by the raid, but the police general's friend returned and said an extra 12 million rubles ($500,000) were needed because other law enforcement officials wanted a cut.

Seryapin, of the city police's tax department, then called Danilov and said the matter could be settled by meeting Alexander Pechalov-Morozov, head of the private security firm Vimpel-AT. Instead, Danilov went to the Interior Ministry's internal affairs department, which arranged a sting operation.

At the meeting, Pechalov-Morozov told Danilov that the 52 million rubles never reached Seryapin and that he would have to pay another $1.5 million. Pechalov-Morozov was arrested Feb. 27 after accepting the bribe money from Danilov in a sting at a VTB branch on Avtozavodskaya Ulitsa in southern Moscow.

Seryapin and Lazarchuk were detained at their offices on the same day, though Lazarchuk was released on condition that he not leave the city. Pechalov-Morozov signed a full confession, Kommersant said.

A man who answered the telephone Tuesday at Pechalov-Morozov's security firm said, "We are not commenting on what has happened."

A law enforcement official told Kommersant that more arrests in the case would follow.

City police spokesman Viktor Biryukov declined to comment Tuesday.

If charged and convicted of extortion, Seryapin and Pechalov-Morozov face up to 12 years in prison.