Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wife of Suspected Tax Evader Plans to Appeal $76,000 Fine

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Russian wife of an Australian businessman jailed for suspected tax evasion said she cannot raise the money to pay the steep fines being demanded and will challenge them in court as unreasonable.

"If we can't raise it, I don't know what we are going to do," said Lena Burston, whose husband, Robert, who has spent nearly a month in St. Petersburg's Kresky Prison.

Burston, 42, the first foreign businessman jailed by St. Petersburg's tax police, is accused of failing to pay 180 million rubles ($38,000) in taxes in connection with his work as an independent contractor during the past several years. Initially, they said he was 86 million rubles in arrears.

Mrs. Burston said that authorities are imposing a 100 percent penalty, bringing to $76,000 the total amount due.

It is unclear why the tax police, who gained arrest powers last November, singled out Burston. Spokesman have declined to discuss details, although they say they are not trying specifically to make an example of Burston as a warning to other foreigners who fail to pay taxes.

Mrs. Burston said she transferred $30,000 to a tax police account from Holland, where Burston's Russian-born parents live, hoping to use it toward the $100,000 bail initially set. She said she didn't know how to raise the remainder.

She said she was told her husband could be held for months pending a full investigation.

Mrs. Burston said police seized documents needed for her husband's defense, and she does not have access to them.

Most of the papers are related to remodeling and renovation work Burston had done in St. Petersburg.

A local tax police spokesman, Vladimir Alexandrov, said the documents from which they calculated the unpaid taxes were confidential and could not be discussed.