Marshals Make Use of Break-In Authority

Court marshals, making the first use of a new law allowing them to enter the apartments of debtors without consent, have sawed open the door of a fugitive convicted of large-scale fraud, the Federal Court Marshals Service said Friday.

Court marshals in the Belgorod region city of Stary Oskol removed the door of a woman ordered by a court to repay students after being convicted of scamming them for tuition fees, agency spokesman Igor Komissarov said by telephone.

"This is the first case of the new law being applied," Komissarov said. "No more cases of this kind have been registered yet, but we will inform the public if they are."

Komissarov could not specify when the marshals entered the apartment. The agency said in a statement posted on its web site Thursday that it happened "last week."

The Stary Oskol court marshals cut off the hinges of the door of the woman's three-room apartment and sawed through the lock to appraise the property inside, the statement said.

The woman, whose name has not been released, ran an unlicensed private school, regularly collecting money from its students. Local authorities learned of the illegal business and opened a criminal case against her in 2002. A local court convicted her of fraud in 2005, sentencing her to two years in prison and ordering her to repay tuition fees to 286 students, the statement said.

Court marshals had already confiscated and sold other property owned by the woman, including furniture and home appliances. The total collected for those items, however, was not enough to pay all of the plaintiffs, the statement said. She still owes 3 million rubles, about $125,000, it said.

Rather than paying the remaining amount after her release from prison, the woman vanished, prompting court marshals to use the new law -- which came into effect Feb. 1 -- to enter her apartment, the statement said. They were accompanied by an appraiser who estimated the value of the apartment before the door was welded back shut.

The apartment will now be sold off to pay the debt.

Komissarov said marshals have tried to notify the woman of the planned auction and that she can challenge the pending sale in court. Whatever money remains after the debt is paid will be transferred to her bank account, with a 7 percent deduction to cover expenses incurred by authorities, Komissarov said.

The law also gives court marshals the right to notify debtors of a court decision using any available means of communication. Previously, marshals were required to deliver court orders by mail, a process that allowed debtors to ignore notifications with relative ease.

Calls to the press service of the Federal Court Marshals Service's branch in the Belgorod region went unanswered Friday.