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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tax Police Sing Their Own Praises

"Hold fast friends, in the darkness of the night," sang Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Sery, accompanying himself on a guitar. His comrades joined him in a mournful chorus, "Hold fast in the silent night."

The scene is not from an old World War II movie. Sery and his friends are officers of Russia's tax police, an agency created in 1992 to boost revenues and bring tax evaders to justice.

The tax gatherer's profession has progressed a great deal since biblical times, when its members were given low odds of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Today's tax police say they are proud of their profession, a pride reflected in the songs and literature inspired by tax-inspector exploits.

"Ours is a honorable body, which has room only for the brave, the conscientious and honest," Major General Nikolai Medvedev said at a news conference Wednesday where the tax officers revealed not only their zeal, but some of their literary and musical accomplishments.

The officers claim their agency has brought 90 trillion rubles ($1.5 billion) to the federal budget so far, of which 20 trillion rubles came in the first 10 months of 1997. This year the body also brought to light almost 18,000 tax crimes and booked 5,000 people.

But the road is an uphill one.

"Unlike most countries, the very mentality of paying taxes is absent in Russia," sighed Colonel Yury Korotky. "Cracking down on offenders and then getting them sentenced is harder than wringing money from a stone."

The police have to resort to ingenious tactics to catch up with those they chase. In one case, investigators tracked down a tax evader who had gone into hiding by tracing his satellite telephone. The businessman, who owed 2.5 billion rubles, was finally arrested during dinner at the Planet Hollywood restaurant.

Colonel Oleg Burov related another instance when a police captain was caught with a cellar of vodka complete with fake excise tax stamps.

The police also suffer casualties. Six officers have been killed so far in the course of their duties despite being provided with masks and fatigue- clad bodyguards. Anonymous phone calls and death threats to the officers and their families are common, Medvedev said.

But some of the tax police's experiences border on the absurd.

"People quite openly flaunt their wealth while declaring they are poor as church mice," said Korotky, citing the case of "a pop star who drove to our office from his ***kottedzh,*** in a Lincoln Town car andthen insisted he made 12 million rubles the whole of 1996."A raid by the Omsk tax police on a currency exchange outlet found the equivalent of $22,500 in various foreign currencies hidden in the toilet. Another tax inspector in Samara was bitten by a businessman whose tax paying record was found to be less than satisfactory.

But their efforts go largely unappreciated, the officers say.

"Our salaries are low and the work dangerous," Medvedev said. "Not only that, there are now various companies which specialize in advising people how to legally evade taxes."

Korotky also said the force was disappointed by a rejection of a recent bill that would have forced retailers to notify tax authorities when consumers made large purchases.

Due to loopholes in tax laws, of 5,000 people arrested on tax charges this year, only 429 cases actually came to court and only a few dozen actually served time.

"It is the small fry who are caught. The big fish are protected by their wealth and political influence," Medvedev said.

All this is the stuff bestsellers are made of. Several of the officers have turned to the genre of detective fiction to immortalize the exploits of the force. Colonel Nikolai Ivanov is the author of a crime thriller, "Maroseika 12," which deals with the escapades of the tax police. He's now working on a second novel.

Sery also writes songs which are sung on officers' evenings and plays staged by dramatically inclined tax collectors and their families. He also is working on a novel on the tax-collector theme.

Another slim volume aptly entitled "We The Tax Police" contains a number of short stories contributed by officers. Medvedev also edits a newsletter, "Tax Police," which has a circulation of 15,000.