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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspended Jail Time for Bill-Dodger

In a landmark legal case, a former collective farm chief in Ulyanovsk has been given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined 55,000 rubles ($1,735) for dodging his electricity bills -- for 11 years.

The suit against Alexander Trishkin, currently the chairman of a local cooperative, was filed by regional utility Ulyanovskenergo, which told the court that Trishkin owes it a total of 340,000 rubles.

Ulyanovskenergo spokeswoman Irina Nikolayeva said her company is preparing another suit to recover the full amount.

Trishkin could not be reached for comment, but Nikolayeva said he was relieved he was not put behind bars.

Ulyanovskenergo's parent company, national power monopoly Unified Energy Systems, which has been aggressively pursuing debtors, was delighted with the court's ruling.

"I can't remember an occasion when someone was prosecuted for stealing electricity," UES spokesman Andrei Yegorov said.

According to company data, UES was owed 78.67 billion rubles ($2.5 billion) in outstanding bills by its corporate and private clients as of Oct. 1.

Yegorov said UES lawyers characterized their victory as " fantastic." Previous attempts to collect debts through the courts have been unsuccessful.

"It's not hard to demonstrate in court that someone is [illegally] plugged into the grid," said a UES official who requested anonymity. "But it is extremely hard to prove that electricity has been used. Today, however, they managed to prove that energy was stolen."

While the ruling may not trouble the consciences of hardened nonpayers, UES hopes it gives them something to fear.

"The events are unique -- especially when you remember that they happened in the Ulyanovsk region," enthused Irina Surikova, spokeswoman for SMUEK, Ulyanovskenergo's managing company. "The regional prosecutor's office declared war on the energy companies a month ago," she said.

Ulyanovsk is in southern Russia near the Volga River.