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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutors Quiz Customs Officials in Tri Kita Probe

The Prosecutor General's Office summoned Boris Gutin, deputy head of the State Customs Committee, for questioning Wednesday as part of an investigation involving the Tri Kita and Grand furniture stores.

Customs committee chief Mikhail Vanin was questioned about the case Tuesday.

Customs committee spokeswoman Irina Skibinskaya said the questioning was related to an investigation into two top customs officials, Marat Faizulin and Alexander Volkov, who were charged in November with abuse of power.

The prosecutor's office refused to comment on the investigation Wednesday.

Faizulin and Volkov were involved in controversial seizures of furniture imported by the Tri Kita and Grand stores in August 2000.

The customs committee accused the two stores of falsifying the weight and purchase price of the goods they were importing, thereby defrauding the state out of hundreds of million of dollars' worth of import duties.

Customs officials then seized Tri Kita's warehouses and confiscated what Tri Kita and Grand head Sergei Zuyev claims was $6 million worth of furniture.

The furniture was returned in December 2000 after Zuyev paid the committee $2.5 million -- the first installment of a total of $5 million demanded by customs.

Last fall, however, Tri Kita and Grand won several lawsuits against the customs committee, recovered some of the money and prompted the prosecutor's office to launch an investigation into alleged customs abuses.

In response, the customs committee opened an investigation into Tri Kita suppliers, accusing them of forging import documents to avoid paying customs fees.

Kommersant suggested Wednesday that Vanin ordered the investigation into the suppliers, but the customs boss did not confirm this at Tuesday's questioning, the newspaper quoted an unidentified source in the prosecutor's office as saying.

Skibinskaya said Wednesday that Faizulin and Volkov were suspended from their duties after being charged, but they remain free.

Zuyev said he is satisfied by prosecutors' recent efforts in investigating the customs committee.

"However, the customs committee still continues to torment my businesses," he said Wednesday. "I wish the prosecutors would work even better."