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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tax Awards for Both Great and Small

Sofia Guseva has paid her taxes openly and honestly for the last four years, and Tuesday she got a Barbie doll and toys from former Tax Minister Alexander Pochinok as a reward for being an honest taxpayer.

LUKoil, meanwhile, although only a couple of years older than Sofia, was presented with a boring old plaque and a brass statue.

Unfair? Not quite, since Sofia is 4 years old and the youngest taxpayer in the country, while LUKoil, age 7, is the world's biggest oil firm, worth billions of dollars.

Both were honored Tuesday by the Tax Ministry at the First Federal Prize Awards Ceremony for Conscientious Taxpayers in a grand ceremony at the Zolotoye Koltso hotel in central Moscow.

The awards are just one in a long line of initiatives by the ever imaginative Tax Ministry to prod the 35 percent to 40 percent of citizens who don't pay each year into coughing up. The ministry has tried television ads and children's books, and still hasn't given up on the men in black masks with automatic weapons bursting through the front door, but newly appointed Tax Minister Gennady Bukayev believes the advertising value of the award to honored companies will be a good incentive.

The awards were made Tuesday to 39 companies that paid all their taxes last year without any delays, in full and without any fines. Companies honored included Vimpelcom, Moscow City Telephone Network, Slavneft and Sberbank.

But that's not to say that there are only 39 conscientious taxpayers, other than Sofia, of course.

"They're just the best of the best," Bukayev said.

Long-legged models, lounge music and a lavish buffet welcomed the conscientious taxpayers to the plush hotel on Smolenskaya Ploshchad and a horde of press turned it into an awards ceremony more reminiscent of the film world.

"It shows that we are a law-abiding company," said Svetlana Mikhailovna of the Krasnoyarsk Color Metals Factory, asking if we could thank the person they owed everything to: their accountant.

But still, no one was avoiding the fact that the awards were a sign that all is far from rosy with the tax system.

"I know you should make a toast to the long life of such an award," said Pochinok, whose signature was on all the awards given. "But I hope that this will be the last one."

But officials said they hoped such events could push tax collection further, announcing that they had collected 127 billion rubles (around $4.49 billion) in the first quarter of 2000, 39 billion rubles more than was budgeted for.

Most winners seemed particularly pleased at the publicity, but the real star was Sofia, a child model who has been paying taxes since she was 4 months old. Sofia, wearing a bright red dress, handed over the statues to each winner. At the end, Bukayev gave her a statue of her own.

"We don't hide from our country," said her father, Alexander Gusev, director of the modeling and acting school called The House of Gusevs. "We understand that it goes toward the development of our country so that tomorrow will be better."

"It's easier, then you can sleep," said his wife, Irina Guseva, referring to the series of advertisements the Tax Ministry ran last year showing stressed tax-dodgers turned insomniacs.

Gusev did add: "I don't always want to as I understand that not every thing goes where it should but ...

"[My daughter] has a dream like any woman to be beautiful," he said. "And she wants to retire like Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell."