Kiosk Workers Allege Favoritism in Liquor Raids

With the help of the police, the Moscow City Commercial Inspectorate this week began enforcing a law prohibiting the sale of hard liquor within 100 meters of metro stations, raiding several kiosks outside Ulitsa 1905 Goda metro.


The city says it is driven by a concern for public morals, but many suspect that private vendettas are the real force behind the new prohibition.


On Friday, vodka was openly back on sale in each of 12 kiosks outside the Ulitsa 1905 Goda metro station that had been raided Wednesday. The raid was the first since a July 21 decree signed by Mayor Yury Luzhkov prohibiting the sale of hard liquor in and around a whole range of public gathering places, such as metro stations, medical clinics, railroad stations, churches and schools, among others.


Luzhkov initially said the decree was designed not to limit the sale of alcohol per se, but to cut down on crime and disorder around public meeting places. Critics, however, countered that the law would be used to bolster business of some liquor dealers at the expense of others.


According to Larisa Korzhnyeva, who as director of the Central Okrug Commercial Inspectorate organized the Wednesday raid, the operation, which confiscated 5,000 bottles of liquor and yielded 97 million rubles (about $18,400) in fines, was designed to "wipe alcohol out permanently" from the station and set an example for other regions.


But the shelves around Ulitsa 1905 Goda did not seem any barer Friday, and vendors were unruffled by the fines. The operation, they said, was strictly an internal business matter.


"The cops came by and told us to put away our bottles," said Alexei, 23, who works for Praelon Ltd., one of the 12 kiosks that was raided Wednesday. "And then we put them right back out again. They confiscated some, but mostly it wasn't much of a loss."


Alexei said that all 12 of the affected kiosks were run by one person. He declined to name his boss, but added that the 35-odd kiosks at the metro station -- of which more than 20 sell alcohol -- were divided up among three men.


"You can draw your own conclusions," he said. "If one person was affected, while others weren't, then you have an idea of what's going on."


Salesmen at another affected kiosk called Diana Ltd., while declining to give their own names, confirmed that all the raided kiosks belonged to the same man. The market administration was not responsive to queries about kiosk ownership. Patrolmen at the station, who by law are now obligated to confiscate and destroy alcohol sold within the so-called "sobriety zones," refused Friday to say why they were ignoring the renewed public sale of vodka and cognac.


Korzhnyeva expressed shock that vodka was being sold openly just two days after the raid, and promised that the area would be raided again next week.


"They should be carrying out our instructions," she said. "If they aren't, we'll be back Tuesday or Wednesday next week and raid them again."


She denied that the raid had been carried out as a means of settling an internal dispute at the market.


"I don't know anything about all of those kiosks belonging to one man," she said.


"And besides, 1905 wasn't the only station we plan on raiding. Tverskaya, Krasnopresnenskaya and all the others in my okrug will be checked soon. I guarantee that."


A Moscow police spokeswoman denied that their patrolmen were ignoring the mayoral order.


"If they see alcohol, they will confiscate it and impose fines," said Lydia Lankina of the police press office.