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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Expatriate Tax Prisoner Freed As Investigation Continues

ST. PETERSBURG -- An Australian businessman accused of tax evasion, released from prison as authorities continue an investigation that could yet land him in prison for up to five years, said he was singled out as a warning to the rest of the foreign community in St. Petersburg.

"They wanted to use me as an example," Robert Burston, an independent contractor in St. Petersburg since 1993, said in an interview Tuesday, just over a week after his release from the city's Kresty prison, where he spent six weeks in detention. "Next it could be you or anyone else."

"When I was leaving, they asked me, 'So, do you know anyone else like yourself?'" he added.

Vladislav Vinogradov, a spokesman for the tax police press service, said Wednesday that an investigation into charges that Burston failed to report income to tax officials would be wrapped up this month.

"Only the court can make a decision on his guilt," Vinogradov said. The maximum penalty on the charge was five years imprisonment, he said, but he did not speculate on what sentence Burston might receive.

Burston was released from prison after he "voluntarily" paid the damages currently estimated due to the Russian government and signed an agreement not to leave the country, Vinogradov said. Tax police said he was held in prison during the initial investigation on the grounds that, as a foreigner, he was a flight risk.

The tax official would not say the damage figure involved, but earlier estimates placed the sum at $76,000 -- including both the estimated taxes owed and a 100 percent penalty.

Burston said he was not sure how tax officials tracked him down, but that he suspected someone turned him in.

"Someone wanted to see me fall," he said. Informers to the tax police are promised up to a 10 percent take of the sum of unpaid taxes involved.