Nation hit by vodka tax scam

  • 2009-04-15
  • By Jana Belugina

DRINK UP: The forged excise stamps on some of the leading brands of Estonian alcohol were nearly indistinguishable from the authentic marks.

TALLINN - The Estonian Tax and Customs Board has discovered a record number of strong alcoholic beverages bearing forged excise stamps in an investigation covering thousands of bottles throughout the country.
According to the State Prosecution Office, out of 62,644 bottles of vodka taken for the verification control in the beginning of April 's taken from various shops as well as from the Baltmodum warehouse 's 37,173, or 59 percent, were marked with forged excise stamps.

All of the alcoholic beverages that were found to have forged stamps, which means that tax is not being paid on the product, had been produced by two well-known Estonian alcohol manufacturers 's joint stock company Offex Group and private limited company Remedia.
The brands that were found with falsified stamps include "Talu Viin," "Kodu Viin," "Pshenichnaja Vodka," "Vodka Avans," and "Roomu Vodka," which belong to the Offex Group, and "Oma Viin," produced by Remedia. The prosecution found that despite the fact "Oma Viin" is registered as being produced by Remedia, it could still have been produced by the Offex Group.

Both manufacturers, Offex Group and Remedia, are owned by the same businessman, Igor Zavjalov. Zavjalov was detained on April 2 after a warrant was issued by the Harjumaa District Court. A total of six people have so far been accused of taking part in the tax-dodging scheme. Remedia has been dropped from the case.
The owners of the companies stand accused of causing deliberate damage to the state in the amount of at least 90,000 euros, if the detained alcohol would have been sold. The investigation has yet to reveal how much unpaid taxes the companies owe. 

The head of the Investigative Department of the Tax and Customs Board, Rene Kanniste, stated that nearly 20,000 forged excise stamps were found during the searches, which were carried out on March 31.
"On the premises of Baltmodum, which has been involved in the Offex Group production sales, 15 pallets with ready production carrying, according to the preliminary expertise, forged excise stamps on it were disclosed," said Kanniste.

Kanniste also underlined that this is the first time in Estonia forged alcohol stamps were discovered.
"Considering this, I can say, that excise stamps were manufactured on a very good level. The fakes were very hard to detect," said Kanniste.
According to State Prosecutor Piret Paukstys, a foreign printing plant, where the excise stamps were actually printed, is definitely involved in the case. The exempt excise stamps were of such good quality that it was impossible to distinguish them from the originals.

Production bearing forged excise stamps was detected in the retail chains belonging to the companies Naltu, Kauba-PT, OG Elektra (Grossi supermarkets), Helter_R, Feenoks and Tabacalera.
According to Paukstys, the court has seized three apartments, six immovable properties and a Toyota Land Cruiser as a part of the criminal investigation.

"Also, some asset and bank accounts have been blocked and about 1.5 million krones (96,000 euros) in cash, which were found during the search, are withdrawn," Paukstys said.