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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Utilities Firm Investigated for ‘Hanging’ Debtors

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service said Thursday that it has opened an investigation into a utilities company in the Nizhny Novgorod region that promised to “hang” people who did not pay their bills.

The company, which supplies Dzer­zhinsk’s 261,000 residents with heating, hot water, gas and electricity, faces charges of violating the law on advertising by placing portraits of debtors on billboards under the words “Hanged as promised” last month.

A spokeswoman for the company, Nizhegorodskiye Kommunalniye Systemy, told The Moscow Times that the firm had to take a radical step to recover at least part of debts of 600 million rubles ($20 million) that Dzerzhinsk customers had accumulated over the past two years.

More than 20,000 customers are behind in their bills, and debts for heating and hot water alone have reached 350 million rubles, spokeswoman Tatyana Khlebnikova said.

The company put up billboards warning, “We will hang for debts” in July. It ran another series of billboards in late August, which depicted debtors along with their names, photographs and the amounts they owed.

The posters were condemned by Dzerzhinsk City Hall and many residents.

A preliminary hearing into the anti-monopoly service’s complaint will be held Oct. 14, Interfax reported.

Khlebnikova said that the “hanging” of debtors did bring some positive results. “We actually had cases of customers seeking to curtail their debts after their photographs were plastered around the city,” she said by telephone.

She said it was too early to say whether the campaign had helped reduce the company’s debt by a significant amount.

Her company, meanwhile, has removed the offending billboards but has not resigned on efforts to fight debtors. Khlebnikova said it would now put up billboards that simply say, “Pay for heating and hot water!”