Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 147

The tax authorities have begun an audit of TV-6, one of the outlets in the media empire controlled by Boris Berezovsky. The federal tax police yesterday visited the television station’s offices in Moscow, after which its general director, Aleksandr Ponomarev, said that the visit was a surprise, but adding that “it is not in the tradition of the tax police to warn about their arrival in advance.” Ponomarev said, however, that the audit may be routine, given that the station was previously audited in 1998, and that there was no reason “thus far” to raise a fuss about “an attack on our freedom.” Ponomarev said the station had presented the tax inspectors with financial documents, as required by law, and that no materials had been seized (Russian agencies, July 27).

Given that the tax police showed up at TV-6 just as the charges against Media-Most’s Vladimir Gusinsky were being dropped, and on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s roundtable meeting with eighteen oligarchs, it is difficult not to conclude that the raid was at least in part designed to illustrate the Kremlin’s determination to put all the oligarchs equally in their place. At the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who is also finance minister, ordered the tax authorities and other federal agencies to look into allegations that certain oil companies–above all, Sibneft, which is said to be controlled by Roman Abramovich, the State Duma deputy and Kremlin insider–have been using “special methods” to evade taxes. The Finance Ministry recently reported that Sibneft was paying many times less tax than other leading oil companies. It also reported that the Tyumen Oil Company (controlled by the influential Alfa Group), Yukos (controlled by leading oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky) and Slavneft had been significantly underpaying taxes. Kudrin’s demarche came on the heels of accusations that the Kremlin has been giving certain oligarchs, particularly Abramovich, preferential treatment (see the Monitor, July 27).