Financial “clones” of FBK
The Anti-Corruption Fund * was registered nine years ago, in 2011, as a non-profit organization. He must spend all the funds raised solely on statutory goals.
Transparency of the work of the fund is a necessary condition for its existence. And FBK annually publishes reports. So, in 2018, the fund, according to published reports, received 58 million rubles. Donations were made by about 16.3 thousand donors, the average size was 720 rubles. At the same time, expenses amounted to 65.3 million rubles.
The report describes in detail where and what this money was spent on: staff costs, tax deductions, office maintenance, accounting and banking services, technical support, etc.
However, as RT found out, several commercial entities, whose main task is to make a profit, were established by FBK full-time employees.
In particular, it is Media-Live LLC, Leviathan-Media LLC, Tidal Country LLC in Russia, as well as SIA Database in Latvia. The activities of each of these companies are described in detail below. Note that all of them are registered with FBK full-time employees. And the activities of these companies are hardly transparent.
Experts believe that such a structuring of activities may be associated with an underestimation of the tax base for certain types of mandatory payments.
“Such fragmentation of activity may have several reasons. The first is tax optimization, ”explains Ivan Solovyov, Honored Lawyer of Russia, Chairman of the Legal Aid Center“ Matter of Life ”. “It’s easier to save, raise costs and lower profits.”
In addition, he says, "various assistance in the form of grants and other payments is thus dispersed across several legal entities and does not seem big."
“Or, on the contrary, such assistance can be targeted, to the development of a specific direction, without casting a shadow on the whole structure as a whole,” the lawyer added.
Current legislation does not prohibit registering a legal entity with employees of non-profit organizations, Solovyov says.
“However, there are a number of decisions of the arbitration courts that have recognized such fragmentation as abuses in the tax sphere,” the lawyer said.
Gleb Plesovsky, chairman of the Moscow Bar Association of Lawyers and Business, agreed with this opinion. In practice, such schemes are often used to optimize taxation, he says.
“A company that pays a six percent tax on“ simplified tax ”(simplified taxation system. - RT ), but is approaching revenue limits, can continue its work by creating a similar legal entity, a“ clone, ”the lawyer cites an example.
Thus, he continues, the company may not switch to the general taxation system and save significantly on taxes.
“The bodies of the Federal Tax Service unequivocally interpret such actions as distorting information about the facts of the economic life of the organization,” emphasizes the Plesovsky. - If the tax inspector comes to a conclusion about deliberate actions to reduce the tax base, the offender faces a liability of 40% of the amount of unpaid taxes in accordance with paragraph 3 of Art. 122 of the Tax Code of the Russian Federation. ”
The Leviathans of Gimadi
FBK has commercial structures both in Russia and abroad. In Russia, in particular, three companies are noteworthy: Media-Live LLC, Leviathan-Media LLC and Country of Tides LLC.
The YouTube channel "Navalny.LIVE", as RT found out, was trying to register as a media outlet as an information agency. The corresponding application was filed with Roskomnadzor, and after the refusal to comply with it, was filed with the courts in 2019 not by Alexey Navalny or FBK, but by the commercial structure - Media Live LLC.
He founded the company in April 2018, according to the Kontur.Fokus database, the head of the legal department of FBK Vyacheslav Gimadi. At first it was called Leviathan Media Holding LLC, and later it was renamed to Media Live.
In May of the same year, Gimadi registered another commercial entity - Leviathan-Media LLC.
These companies, as well as their representative, FBK lawyer and producer of the channel "Navalny.LIVE" Lyubov Sobol, filed a lawsuit in the Tagansky district court of Moscow with a request to declare illegal the refusal of Roskomnadzor to register the news agency of the same name. At the same time, according to the Kontur.Fokus base, in March last year, she replaced Gimadi as the director of Media Live. In February 2019, the court sided with the defendant.
First, the plaintiffs could not prove the authenticity of Navalny’s intentions to consent to the use of his name in the name of the media, as they could not confirm the authenticity of his signature in the corresponding document submitted to Roskomnadzor.
Secondly, Roskomnadzor “had reasonable suspicions that the sole founder of the media had dual citizenship,” that is, Gimadi.
The citizen of which country, except Russia, may be the head of the legal department of FBK, is unknown. Meanwhile, we recall that FBK, among other things, credits the investigation of the facts of the presence of foreign citizenship among a number of journalists.
In October 2019, all these arguments were confirmed by a higher instance of the Moscow City Court, the determination of which is available to RT. A similar lawsuit with the same result in 2018 was considered by the Moscow Arbitration Court.
Both structures of FBK lawyers indicated “the activity of web portals” as the main lesson. It is impossible to understand how much companies earn by reporting - they do not disclose it.
If we consider the video blog “Navalny.LIVE” on YouTube as such activity, then on a weekly stream they can earn up to 100 thousand rubles or more.
According to the comments of benefactors displayed during one live broadcast, our correspondent estimated that 116 thousand rubles were collected in two hours. At the same time, donations can be sent outside the live broadcast, both one-time and on a regular basis with the help of a paid subscription.
In addition to donations, the so-called merch - branded products became the source of earnings for the companies of FBK employees. These are mugs, cases for phones, clothes with logos, rubber ducks autographed by Navalny. Prices for goods in the "Navalny headquarters store" range from 250 to 13,666 rubles.
Formally, each purchase is made using a public offer (a public offer to buy and sell goods, which buyers accept without reservation). The Navalny Headquarters Store offers each customer to conclude it with the commercial structure of Tidal Land LLC.
This company, according to the Kontur.Fokus database, was established in 2017 by Tatyana Torocheshnikova. Formally, according to the same data, she has registered IP for activities "in the field of artistic creativity." According to unconfirmed information, she works in the media department of the human rights organization of lawyers and journalists “Team29” and collaborated with FBK.
However, already in April 2018, FBK lawyer Evgeny Zamyatin turned out to be the sole owner of the “Country of Tides”.
It is hard to say how much the store earned in 2019: reports have not yet been published. In 2018, the revenue of the “Country of the Tides” amounted to 5.4 million rubles, net profit - 2.7 million rubles, and a year earlier - 2 million rubles. At the same time, according to Kontur.Fokus, the company's margin in 2017 is quite substantial: 60.8 rubles of sales revenue for each invested ruble.
According to a computer analysis of Audit-it financial statements, the financial condition of Tidal Country LLC as of December 31, 2018 was significantly better than half of all organizations with revenues of up to 10 million rubles engaged in clothing retail.
“At the same time, in 2018, the financial condition of the organization improved,” the auditor concluded.
And according to the Federal Tax Service, the average number of employees in 2019 is one person.
The classic tax evasion scheme is the use of fictitious transactions in order to increase the cost of purchased goods or services, the Investigative Committee (IC) notes in its methodological recommendations “On the study and proof of intentional non-payment or incomplete payment of tax amounts”.
“Fictitious transactions can be concluded by unscrupulous taxpayers with both a one-day firm and an affiliate,” the document says.
In investigating such criminal cases, the IC recommends "focusing on establishing a real business organization scheme, understanding what functions each of the affiliated organizations performs on paper."
By affiliated persons it is customary to understand such individuals and legal entities that are capable of exerting influence on other persons engaged in entrepreneurial activity.
However, the concept of “affiliation” implies that the same person controls both the parent and the dependent company, said Ilya Remeslo, a lawyer and member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation. In the case of FBK, the situation is slightly different: the founders of the allegedly dependent firms were ordinary employees of the fund who are not its co-owners.
“In the case when the current FBK employees - for example, the head of the legal department Vyacheslav Gimadi or their other lawyer, Evgeny Zamyatin - establish their own companies, correctly call them interdependent persons," the lawyer explained to RT.
An important starting point in determining the interdependence of individuals can be considered the ability of one person to influence decisions made by other persons, the expert explained. In this case, the leadership of FBK - for example, its director Ivan Zhdanov - is able to influence the decisions and actions of its subordinates - the lawyers Gimadi and Zamyatin.
As noted above, FBK employees also register business abroad. Thus, the head of the FBK Investigation Department, Georgy Alburov, owns a business in Latvia.
According to the official consular information of this country, the fact of registration in the commercial register of an individual merchant gives the latter the right to obtain a residence permit.
As RT found out, on October 26, 2016, Alburov registered in Riga the company SIA (an analogue of the Russian LLC) Dataset with a registered capital of € 2.8 thousand. The company provides some information services. What kind of services they are and who Dataset provides them with is not known, however, the affairs of the Latvian company Alburova are going uphill.
Judging by the annual reports of the company, if in 2017 the Dataset turnover was only € 8.7 thousand, and the profit did not exceed € 2.8 thousand, then already in 2018 the company's turnover grew almost 8.5 times - up to € 73 thousand, and net profit amounted to € 11.6 thousand
Experts do not exclude that a company in Latvia might be required to withdraw funds abroad and protect against Russian law enforcement agencies.
“Potentially, such a scheme can be used to withdraw assets abroad,” suggests Gleb Plesovsky.
However, he makes a reservation that it is difficult to clearly judge this without seeing the structure of interaction between legal entities and financial transactions between them.
“For FBK employees, taking into account the political color of their activities, the placement of legal entities abroad can be a way of protection against Russian law enforcement agencies. In particular, seizing their accounts will be extremely problematic, ”the lawyer concluded.
Recall that in August 2019, the Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal case on money laundering of FBK in the amount of 1 billion rubles. According to investigators, in 2016-2018, fund employees received money from unidentified persons in Russian and foreign currencies, and then deposited money through ATMs into the accounts of several banks, after which they transferred them to FBK.
* The Anti-Corruption Fund is included in the register of NGOs performing the functions of a foreign agent, by decision of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation of 09.10.2019.