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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Customs Ends Crackdown Amid Truck Pileup

The Moscow Central Customs Department has softened regulations seeking to root out corruption and illegal imports after a monthlong crackdown resulted in massive delays in shipments.

But with thousands of trucks still stranded on the city’s icy streets Wednesday, it was unclear if the reprieve issued Monday was being carried out by all of Moscow and the Moscow region’s 460 customs clearance terminals.

The Central Customs Department said in a statement that the Jan. 3 decree was suspended "because the process of customs clearance significantly slowed down, trucks with cargoes started to pile up around inspection warehouses and honest importers started to suffer losses."

The original decree targeted a group of imports in the 5 percent tariff category and consignments of goods worth less than $15,000 per truck. Customs ordered such imports to be fully unloaded and each crate opened and checked. Documentation for each shipment had to be signed by Central Customs Department acting chief Alexander Zherekhov.

The decree led to a 75 percent drop in imports in January, and made truck drivers wait for up to six days to get their cargo cleared. Although imports have plummeted, there has yet to be a noticeable impact on prices in Moscow stores.

A watered-down decree issued Monday cancels the audit of every crate, but allows selective checks to be carried out at the discretion of inspectors. It also allows the heads of the Central Customs Department’s four divisions (north, south, east and west) to sign clearance papers.

But Central Customs Department spokesman Viktor Sokolov confirmed that not all of the terminals have received the order overriding the crackdown yet. "The decree simply hasn’t arrived [at all checkpoints]," he said. "It’s just a gap in passing information from the center to the outlets."

Sokolov also said that the January decree was still in force in 15 other regions, including Tula, Smolensk, Belgorod, Bryansk, Voronezh and Tver.

The suspension had not immediately changed the situation Wednesday. Dozens of trucks were still lined up around every terminal, jamming roads already blocked with high snowdrifts.

"I have been here since Friday," said one truck driver from Slovakia, before being called away for inspection at the Voikovsky customs terminal.

"Lucky him," said Standa Bruchansky, a Czech driver with a truckload of upper-market clothing. Two Slovakian drivers were sharing his cab in a bid to save money on heating.

Bruchansky said he arrived Sunday and has no idea when it will be his turn to enter the terminal for an inspection.

The delay is costing him 600 Deutsche marks ($285) a day, he said.

"Losses already amount to 2,400 marks. The cargo owners will include this sum in their bill to their Moscow clients," Bruchansky said. "Ultimately, the Russian people will have to pay for the inefficiency of customs."

Drivers who are spending days on end in the streets complained that there are no showers or even toilets.

"We have to ask the terminal to allow us to use their toilet," said Alexander, a Minsk driver hauling cosmetics from Switzerland, who has been stuck on Leningradskoye Shosse for three days.

Voikovsky officials were unavailable for comment. The officer on duty said the director is busy with auditors.

Other drivers complained they have suffered lengthy delays on their way to Moscow.