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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Investing in Russia at Airport Customs

You want to participate in the growth of the Russian economy, you want to invest, but don't know how? Then just leave your dollars or euros at customs control in Sheremetyevo Airport. The money will go directly to the Russian budget.

About $9,000 and 1,400 euros were confiscated by customs officers at Sheremetyevo on Tuesday from a Spanish citizen who was leaving for Madrid and did not have either a customs declaration or bank receipt for the money, Interfax reported.

He was allowed to fly out of the country, but a legal case was opened against him, the news agency said, citing the Transportation Police under the Interior Ministry. The report did not identify the man other than to say he was 36 years old. The Spanish Embassy could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Spaniard is only the latest foreigner to make a direct investment while leaving the country. According to a member of the Transportation Police who works at Sheremetyevo, money is confiscated from someone at the airport every day or two.

"We have about 200 such cases annually, with the usual confiscated amount ranging from $300 to $35,000," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under current legislation, Russian nationals may take up to $1,500 out of the country without a customs declaration. Foreign nationals, however, may take hard currency out of the country only by presenting either a customs declaration that was stamped upon their arrival or documentation from a bank showing that the money was legally brought into the country. The amount of cash is not restricted.

The foreign business community objects to what it sees as discriminatory treatment, and its representatives hope to discuss the issue with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov later this week.

A person accused of trying to take money out of the country illegally is allowed to leave Russia, but only after someone from his country's embassy comes to the airport, the Transportation Police official said.

"Usually nothing further happens with the legal case, and the money is confiscated in favor of the Russian government," he said.

Foreigners whose money is confiscated have little or no hope of getting it back, officials said.

Irina Skibinskaya, a State Customs Committee spokeswoman, said the confiscated currency goes to the federal budget, while any goods, such as artwork, that are confiscated from people trying to take them out of the country without proper documentation go to the State Property Fund.

Last year, customs officers across Russia confiscated a total of 1.5 billion rubles and $3.6 million in cash, Skibinskaya said. These figures include money seized at Sheremetyevo, but it was unclear how big a portion it was.

"We totally agree that the current currency controls at customs discriminate against non-residents," Skibinskaya said. "We think it is absurd and the Customs Committee tried to avoid this situation in the end of 2001, but it failed."

The problems began back in August 1999, when a new version of the law on currency regulation and control came into force, prohibiting nonresidents from taking any amount of cash out of Russia without certain documentation. Until then, nonresidents and Russians had the same right to take up to $500 with them, no questions asked.

To avoid discrimination, and the hassles and delays the new law was causing at the airport, the Customs Committee issued its own regulation, which kept the old rules in place. But last September, the Justice Ministry refused to sign it, saying that only the State Duma can write and amend laws.

The foreign community, represented by the European Business Club, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Foreign Investment Advisory Council and the German Business Council, sent a letter to Kasyanov on Dec. 18, appealing for help.

"We don't ask for any special treatment. We just want to be treated the same way as Russian citizens," one of the people who signed the letter said, speaking on condition he not be identified.

"Problems with $100 or $200 at customs do not directly affect your business, but this treatment, which can hardly be reasonably explained, negatively affects the image of Russia and creates additional problems for many foreigners," he said.

Representatives of the foreign business organizations and some foreign ambassadors were trying to arrange a meeting with Kasyanov for later this week.

Unless a change is made, most nonresidents might be wise to leave the country with only their credit and bank cards, and just hope that ATM machines wherever they are going are working.

"I used to hide dollars in my shoes, but you probably won't use them after a long flight. Also, there is a shoe check in the United States now and I don't want to be misunderstood," said one Moscow-based American who works for a brokerage company.