Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Being Here: A Tax Evangelist for Expatriates

Some people crusade to defeat world hunger. Others take on animal rights. And then there's John Harvey -- he's out to get you to pay your Russian income taxes.


"Otherwise, we're kind of like the carpetbaggers from the Union that came down to the South after the [American] civil war, just to take advantage of the economic situation," said Harvey, a former senior tax consultant at Price-Waterhouse's Moscow office.


In a country where income tax evasion is nothing short of a national pastime, it's a hard row to hoe -- and Harvey, 29, has decided to hoe it alone. A few months ago he opened what he believes is Moscow's first tax consultancy aimed specifically at expatriates who want to "relieve their conscience and pay their taxes."


"I think most expatriates don't have any idea what the laws are -- when to file, where to file, how to file. They're just in the dark," he said.


A native of Los Angeles, Harvey graduated in 1989 from the University of Southern California's School of Accountancy and said he went into the tax field because "it's a lot more exciting than auditing." Harvey, who is unmarried, came to Moscow in 1992 and spent his first two years in Russia working as a business adviser to a Christian humanitarian aid organization. He said his zeal for getting expatriates to pay their income taxes was in part inspired by the experience.


"You could see the needs that people have, such as pensioners, and the only means they really have are the government, supported by tax revenues," he said.


Harvey's career started on a slightly flashier note. Before coming to Moscow, he worked as a tax consultant in Ernst & Young's Beverly Hills office. Glitterati clients of the firm included Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby.


So far, Harvey's Moscow clients are a different breed -- from managers of small companies to administrative assistants. "Most of them come because of articles like that," he said, pointing to a recent Moscow Times article about an Australian businessman in St. Petersburg who was jailed and fined $76,000 for tax evasion.


"They're scared. They want to be able to leave the country [and] they don't want to have this ghost behind them."


He estimates that of the 100,000 Western expatriates believed to be living in Russia, about 60,000 are "residents," meaning they spend more than 183 days a year in the country and are liable to income tax under Russian law.


"I have calls from people that are thinking about filing, and want to find out how much would they really owe and then when they find out, they say 'Well, I'll just risk it,'" he said. Most expatriate income would fall into the 30 percent maximum tax bracket.


Harvey would not disclose his projected profit or start-up costs. But he said clients are now coming in at a rate of about three a week. Harvey, a U.S. Certified Public Accountant, said he plans to charge $100 per hour for a personal tax consultation and $500 for preparation of an annual tax return.


Other than a Moscow registration chamber that initially balked at the idea of registering a foreigner as an independent entrepreneur he said that the authorities, in particular the tax inspectorate, have been "very supportive" of his lone venture.