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Moscow police raid Chinese market
Updated: 2004-02-17 08:46

In the raids that started on Feb. 9 and culminated on Feb. 12, Russian Interior Ministry agents carted away large amount of goodsfrom more than 300 stalls rented by Chinese merchants in the Emila wholesale market in south Moscow.

Russian major ordered Chinese cargo to be hauled away in a truck

The two-way eight-lane fly-over crossing ring road of Moscow has a span of 100 kilometers and is commonly referred to as the "Big Ring". As Russian economy is recovering the "Big Ring" is gradually becoming a "gold ring" for accumulating wealth in recent years. French Auchan, Sweden Ikea and "Turkish Kangaroo" all have supermarkets lined on both sides of the "Big Ring". Russian local stores of construction material, furniture, garment and electric appliance also swarmed in.

Regions near Domodevo (Chinese call it "kitchen god" airport) attract the attention of investors thank to their convenient communications. Not long ago an Israeli businessman, who is said to have close relations with the Moscow municipal government, opened a large market called "Emila" specialized in storage and whole sales. More than 300 booths were rented to Chinese businessmen. For this reason many people also refer to "Emila" as the "Chinese market".

On Feb. 12 a large group of armed Russian policemen appeared at "Emila" market. The leading one, who appeared to be an officer, presented his ID and identified himself as a major of Russian Interior Ministry. He said he had come to investigate a case under the order of Key Case Investigation Committee of The Interior Ministry. Then with a piece of document he requested booth owners to show their import goods customs manifests.

As the booth owners couldn't produce the customs manifests, the major declared on the spot that the Chinese businessmen violated Russian customs law and decided to confiscate immediately the commodities in the market in pursuant of law. This was actually a designed action. Lots of big trucks loaded with containers and many loaders had been waiting outside the market for a long time. On hearing the order the loaders threw the merchandise of the Chinese businessmen onto the trucks without listening to their protests.

Chinese businessmen lost $30 million: Chinese Embassy requests an explanation

The confiscation action carried out by Russian Interior Ministry on "Emila" market brought serious economic damages to Chinese businessmen. According to preliminary statistics the value of the confiscated goods is estimated at about US$30 million.

All the Chinese businessmen in "Emila" market are farmers from Zhejiang and Fujian provinces and the commodities they were selling were products of local township enterprises. It is no overstatement to say that once their commodities were confiscated it is not only them who would lose means of livelihood their hometown economy would be affected as well. Being in a foreign country and faced with armed police these minor businessmen were suddenly at a loss of what to do. Like most Chinese citizens they turned to the Chinese Embassy in Russia.

On receiving a pleading call from these businessmen, Guo Min, councilor of Chinese Embassy in Russian, together with some consuls went to "Emila" market in a car to negotiate with the police. Chinese officials required that the police act in accordance with the law and the confiscated commodities not to be arbitrarily sold, auctioned or lost. They also advised the Chinese businessmen to make lists of their commodities and go through necessary procedures.

On Feb.13, Liu Guchang, Chinese Ambassador to Russia, held an emergent meeting discussing ways of protecting the interests of Chinese businessmen. The Embassy presented notes to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior during the night requesting that Russia, in the interest of the friendship between China and Russia, would urge its concerned departments to protect the interests of Chinese businessmen in Russian with practical and effective measures, that it stop taking away and return all the commodities of Chinese citizens confiscated by the police. The Embassy is still negotiating with Russia and doing its best to safeguard the interests of Chinese citizens.

Without giving customs clearance tax police picks on Chinese businessmen

The fact that Chinese businessmen at "Emila" market couldn't produce import goods customs clearance doesn't mean that these businessmen had engaged in smuggling or evaded Russian customs tariff. The origin of the event must be traced back to the so-called "gray customs clearance" practice.

Following the unraveling of USSR at the beginning of the 1990s Russian economy plunged into serious crisis. Markets of everywhere including the capital Moscow were short of supply. To meet the everyday life demand of a people who lacked money the Russian government had to import many commodities.

Consumer goods from China, though not of high-grade, were of good quality and cheaper. The Russian people were willing to use and also could afford them. Therefore a great deal of Chinese goods flew into Russian market. Many Russians and foreign speculators carried on their back import goods from China to Russian as travelers. Some businessmen who were engaged in big transactions also failed to register a company in Russia. According to the law these businessmen were not qualified to engage in importing. However, to encourage importing and simplify the customs procedures the Customs Committee of Russia allowed so-called "customs clearance" company to carry out importing transactions for commodities owners and provide the "one stop" service which combined transportation and customs clearance.

Customs clearance company usually have close relations with the Russian Customs and strong backing from powerful figures. They get many favorable policies from the Russian Customs, among which fixed amount of duty for per cargo is the most important. In other words the Customs exempted clearance companies from the practice in which regular customs clearance require that duty be computed according to the value of each commodity. Instead an overall duty is estimated according to the weight or volume of the commodities contained in an airplane, a train or a container. The amount of duty thus calculated is, of course, much lower than the duty if paid in regular customs declaration.

Normally clearance companies would not supply customs clearance manifests and are only responsible for withdrawing commodities from the Customs-supervised warehouse and sending them to the owners' storage. After this clearance companies are no longer responsible for the follow-up even if the tax police pick on the owners. People commonly refer to these businesses as "gray customs clearance".

Due to various reasons Russian has failed to ban this irregular trade practice. Apart from the trade with China this practice is widely used by Russia in its trade with countries like Turk, South Korea, Spain, Italy and Germany.

Chinese Embassy in Russia cautioned concerned Chinese companies that the practice of fixed duty transportation such as "fixed amount of duty for per cargo" was formed in the course of history. It is an irregular trade practice between China and Russia, the risk of which is very high. In the past few years, the aggressive departments of Russia made several raids on Chinese commodities and confiscated them, which brought about great damages to Chinese businessmen.

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