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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Collector Protectors Safeguard Taxman and Till

Tax-dodging in Russia these days is by no means a simple question of "cooking the books."

According to the Moscow tax police, measures now used to dissuade inspectors from delving too deeply into company accounts increasingly include threats of firebombing, physical injury and child-abductions.

The task of dealing with such terror tactics falls on the shoulders of the tax police's own security service, the sluzhba sobstvennoi bezopasnosti or SSB, founded parallel to the tax police in 1992.

In the first nine months of 1996, the SSB dealt with 25 cases of extreme intimidation of members of Moscow's 1,700-strong tax police force, while over the whole of 1995 there were 27 cases. These included the murder of one tax employee, clearly linked to his work.

Avoiding strong-arm tactics where possible, the unit is more methodical than physical in its approach. "This is what we prefer to use in our work," SSB chief Igor Morozov told journalists Thursday, tapping his temple conspiratorially.

Largely made up of specialists drawn from the federal security and counter-intelligence services, the SSB's undisclosed number of operatives try to pinpoint possible sources of danger before tax employees carry out inspections.

When difficulties are anticipated, specially armed and trained squads from the tax police's "Physical Defense Unit" are deployed.

But despite the increasing need for safety measures, the SSB is as deprived of financing as the rest of the tax service, regardless of the importance of its work to the federal budget and to tax collection requirements set by the government and, recently, the IMF.

"The Interior Ministry law enforcement agencies have existed for 70 years, and they have the premises, equipment and weapons. We've only existed for five and we're still not set up materially," said Alexander Borisov, the tax police public relations officer.

The flip-side of the SSB's work, however, is the investigation of bribery allegations among the ranks of the tax inspectorate and police.

Sometimes these turn out to be unfounded. One example cited by Borisov was a charge of extortion levelled at an officer at one Moscow inspectorate in August of this year. Investigations revealed, however, that the officer's name had been used by the manager of a private company in a bid to wring $300,000 out of another firm in exchange for tax exemptions.

Inevitably some investigations do reveal instances of corruption, where tens of thousands of dollars may be offered for a blind eye to be turned. "Wages are not good and this is a cause of temptation, you understand," Morozov said.

However, Borisov said that with regard to internal investigations there was essentially no animosity among tax employees towards SSB officers.

Morozov pointed out that although discretion is the watchword in this aspect of his unit's work, this in itself presented problems.

"It's obviously important that people are not aware that they are being investigated, but this can be psychologically trying for us at times. You might say hello to someone in the corridor as always, but on that day his dossier may be lying on your desk undergoing investigation."