3. Jewelry Import to Russia.
A we started working with Gokhran and Leningrad Mint and joined the "precious metal” stream, we faced the problem of extremely high excise duties for precious metal wares (which were additionally subject to VAT).
It was quite natural for us to look for ways to minimize a tax burden. So we started getting to know various options.
There is an old Jewish joke:
“Abram, why have you shaved your beard off? I've asked our rabbi, he says we are not allowed to shave our beards!”
“Hmm ... I have never asked rabbi.”
It is the very way I acted in most cases. In the early 1990s, when everything fell apart, it worked quite well.
Once I asked my Swiss friend Marc Krähenbühl: "Marc, could you send me 10 kg of silver to Moscow, please?"
I requested my employee Vitaliy Shumilin to receive silver bullions at Sheremetyevo International Airport. Vitaliy was quite a clever guy. He went there along with another employee of mine – Nataliya. By the way, Nataliya has become Vitaliy's mother-in-law later (life flow is unpredictable, and people's destinies are so interrelated).
Much to my surprise, it didn't take them long to bring the bullions to our office. They said, "The customs inspectors were trying their best to find some prohibitions but have found none. They themselves were quite amazed." Well, we did it (without asking rabbi).
As a result, we got an idea to take gold jewelry (instead of silver bullions) through customs next time.
In the process we got to know that the key jewelry producer in Europe was Italy, that they had no gold 583-rd sample (the one that has become 585-th later), that their gold was "yellow" while ours was "red" (containing more copper), that all precious metal articles were to be hallmarked by the Assay Office. But what was most important, we realized that we wouldn't be let through the customs next time unless authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations of the USSR. However, they had no idea of such licensing so far. Well, actually we were pioneers (I love being a pioneer).
Corruption was in its infancy then or, better to say, did not blossom yet. That is why it was not too expensive at that moment. So, the most complicated task was to obtain a license from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a hallmark by the Assay Office (at least at the initial stage).
Banditry was just coming up at that time as well. However, my friends used to warn me even then, "Sanya, what are you meddling in? Gold. Hundreds of kilos. You are likely to get killed soon."
Well, yes. After a while I've noticed that gold seduces all kinds of people. I have often been told I am crazy. Well, I don't argue. In particular, there is no difference between the ways a box of gold and a box of cobblestones affect my mind. For me both are just materials I can work with while many others get obsessed over the subject.
As the goods arrival date was coming, I started thinking of how to escort the cargo from Sheremetyevo Airport to the Assay Office (located next to Patriarch Ponds). As a result I nearly fell into the bandits' lair. I mean I came to a precious metal factory to meet a chief security officer. He introduced himself as a "former Afghan officer, war veteran”. He brought along his companions. To cut it short, I realized they were almost 100% sure to "lose" the cargo on their way from Sheremetyevo to the Assay Office. The guys were really tough. And, by the way, they already knew the flight number. Well, actually it was stupid me who told them.
I had no idea how to get out of the situation. I must confess I got confused. Moreover, I got really scared.
I asked Yevgeniy Milovanov (I have already mentioned him in the section on "ROC, LMD and Orthodox crosses") for help. So, Yevgeniy and I went to the bandits' lair “to discuss the details”. Well, I was really impressed by Yevgeniy's professional manner. There were two of us and about five of them. All of them were playing hardball. Tough and self-confident guys. True old stagers. Yevgeniy started talking to them. The way he did was really artful. He neither said threats nor raised his voice. He was talking in a smooth and convincing manner. I cannot describe the way he did in detail. I will tell you the result. When we were leaving, they were saying goodbye to us with great respect. They were really fussing over us (well, not actually us – only Yevgeniy). When we left, he said to me with a smile: "Well, Sasha, the more the merrier, isn't it?" I was extremely grateful to him. Later Yevgeniy acquainted me with a head of some police office. As a result, we drove to Swissair plane (right to the plane!) by GAZ-66 with the back full of colonels and lieutenant colonels (at least) armed with machine guns. As soon as cargo handlers got to know there were six boxes of jewelry (300 kg) on board, they started persuading me, "Where'd you like us to take it? We're gonna arrange everything!" Their eyes were shining quite expressively as they were saying that. "Well no, thanks! Our car is just driving here." However, the cargo handlers were quite persistent. They didn't leave us alone until they saw the armed men in uniform.
The rest of the story was boring and trivial enough. The Assay Office had to work an extra shift to sift through the first batch of "Russian" jewelry from Italy. I ended up by selling out all of the jewelry wholesale.
I've never been into jewelry imports ever since. After that we implemented production of jewelry made of "Russian gold" in Italy and re-importation of it to Russia. But that's another story.