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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tax Police Trying to Read Minds

Ever complained out loud that taxes are a bit high? Has your accountant ever filed your tax declaration a day late? Or are you "inclined to commit a tax offense"?

If any of these questions apply to you, the Tax Police might put you on their list of individuals and companies that warrant preventative attention, according to an Orwellian internal instruction of the Tax Police. And if they deem it necessary, the officers will ask your spouse to encourage you to pay your taxes.

Instruction No. 525, which was registered by the Justice Ministry on Jan. 29, lays out measures aimed at anticipating and preventing tax violations.

Lawyers on Wednesday called the instruction an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

The Tax Police argued that the instructions have always existed, just never in a single document, and insisted that the Justice Ministry would not have registered the document if it were not in line with the Constitution.

The instruction states that preventative measures should be applied to "individuals inclined to commit crimes."

Thus, anyone who has "expressed the intention of committing illegal actions" could be included on the Tax Police's list, alongside companies that have paid their taxes late.

Lawyers said 90 percent of companies have made at least one late payment.

"It could be a technical slip, or they might not have money on the company account," said Maxim Maximovsky, senior lawyer with Pepeliaev, Goltsblat & Partners. "Still this would formally be a reason to be included on the preventative list."

He said the company would have to pay a late fee of 50 rubles, but then all of the managers could find themselves put on the Tax Police list. "Not just the accountant, but the general director as well because the company itself is liable," he said.

"It gives the Tax Police long arms," he said.

Maximovsky said he believed the instruction violates Article 24 of the Constitution, which bans the collection and storage of a citizen's private information.

Once a suspect is on the list, the Tax Police gain the right to take preventive action such as approaching family members who are "capable of exerting a positive effect" on the would-be tax evader, according to the instruction, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times.

The Tax Police will also work with the media to create "conditions for the intolerance and condemnation of crimes that endanger the state economy," the instruction says.

Successful cases will be shared with the media to create a sense of the "necessity of punishment" for crimes and violations.

Tax Police spokesman Yury Tretyakov said the document contains measures that have been in practice for years.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry refused to comment. "If it has been registered, it means all its clauses are in accordance with acting legislation," she said.

Tretyakov insisted that the Tax Police were not trying to recruit informers.

"The Tax Police can have a chat with the relatives of a potential tax evader to avert him from committing a crime," he said. "We can place a telephone call to the wife of potential violator, for example, and warn her that her husband might get into trouble if he takes the 'slippery path.'"

He said this did not mean that relatives would be forced or encouraged to report on their loved ones.

"There is no talk of turning a wife or any other relative into a Tax Police agent," he said.

He refused, however, to elaborate on what means might be used to get information on potential tax evaders.

Several lawyers said the measures could add to the bureaucracy that small businesses already have to deal with.

One businessman, who runs a translation agency, dryly called the instruction an "absolute masterpiece."

"They've always been able to find faults, but previously they had to have factual proof that a violation had been committed or have a permit from their chief," he said.

"Now they can come to anyone and say, 'It seems to us that you have the intention [of committing a violation]. Give us your financial records.'"

A lawyer with a major metals company cautioned that the instruction might be used to exert pressure on companies.

"It could encourage turncoats," he said.

He added, however, that if a company were to go to court, it would have "absolutely no difficulty" showing that the measures contradict the Constitution.

"There are an enormous quantity of regulations such as these that get registered [by the Justice Ministry] and quite often contradict the Constitution," he said.

Staff Writer Oksana Yablokova contributed to this report.