Yacht Importer Calls Probe A Mistake

Leading luxury yacht importer Burevestnik Group denied smuggling charges Thursday, while the Investigative Committee kept a tight lid on details of the case.

Burevestnik Group, whose top managers were detained in a special police operation in Moscow on Wednesday, claimed that the allegations of the company smuggling luxury yachts were based on a “misunderstanding.”

“This is a misunderstanding that will be cleared up as soon as possible,” it said in a statement.

Burevestnik spokeswoman Anastasia Zaitseva suggested that the company’s business rivals might be behind the investigation.

“This is one of the theories, but I cannot comment on it as of yet,” she told The Moscow Times. “I can only say that I don’t understand why the arrests took place right before our major exhibition.”

Burevestnik said it closes 50 percent to 60 percent of its deals at its annual exhibition, which will take place this weekend.

The suspects are accused of evading customs duties on yachts and motorboats imported from Britain and Italy from 2007 to 2009. A customs official purportedly collaborated with Burevestnik Group by “intentionally decreasing the value of imported ships,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said Thursday, Interfax reported.

While searching the offices of the Burevestnik Yacht Club and Burevestnik Group’s trading subsidiary, AG Marine, investigators seized 150 stamps for offshore companies, Markin said.

When contacted by telephone, he declined to comment on the progress of the investigation or any “conspiracy theories” surrounding it, referring a reporter to a brief statement posted on the committee’s web site Wednesday.

Nine suspects have been detained, including Burevestnik Group managing partner Andrei Lomakin, Burevestnik Yacht Club chief Andrei Boiko, and a senior Federal Customs Service official,  whose name was not disclosed. Investigators have not released the names or positions of the other suspects.

A Federal Customs Service spokesman refused to identify the official.

Customs fees are substantial. Boats carry a 30 percent tax for individuals and 42 percent for organizations, twice the amount levied in Britain. The price for a midrange yacht was $500,000 to $600,000 in 2007, the first year of the purported smuggling racket, said Andrei Amelin, director of Allyachts.ru.