‘The case of the Chekalins and Mitroshina is a signal to the blogging market that it's time to legalise’

Under what conditions bloggers can absolve themselves of criminal responsibility

‘The case of the Chekalins and Mitroshina is a signal to the blogging market that it's time to legalise’
Photo: realnoevremya.ru/Dinar Fatykhov

In March, the public was shocked by several major criminal cases against well-known bloggers. The “first” here were the Chekalins spouses, who are suspected of tax evasion for more than 300 million rubles. Last week, it became known about a similar accusation against Alexandra Mitroshina. Specially for Realnoe Vremya, the lawyers told what would follow the cases against bloggers and called the conditions under which bloggers can absolve themselves of criminal responsibility.

Chronology of cases against bloggers — information about cases is received once a week

The first criminal case against Valeria Chekalina, known as Lerchek, and her husband Artem became known on March 7. According to the investigation, the blogger from July 2020 to July 2022, being an individual entrepreneur and applying a simplified taxation system with an allowable income limit of 150 million rubles a year, received income from the provision of services for the implementation of fitness marathons in a significantly larger amount, not wanting to switch to the general taxation system and pay VAT provided by this tax regime and personal income tax, attracted the spouse and other persons from among their relatives as accomplices. The income was transferred to the settlement accounts opened on the sole proprietors of these persons. As a result, the investigation believes that Chekalina “illegally carried out business fragmentation and evaded paying taxes in the amount of more than 300 million rubles”.

The second case was initiated more than a week later on the fact of money legalisation on a particularly large scale. According to investigators, the couple legalised 130 million rubles and purchased dollars on them to disguise the source of their origin.

On March 21, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against blogger Alexandra Mitroshina in the case of tax evasion totalling over 120 million rubles. According to the investigation, in the period from October 2020 to May 2022, Mitroshina, being an individual entrepreneur, applied the simplified taxation system. After the amount of her earnings from the courses exceeded the permissible limit, she decided not to switch to the general taxation system and not to pay VAT and personal income tax. To do this, after receiving money to the settlement account, she transferred them to the accounts of other individual entrepreneurs controlled by her. Thus, Mitroshina managed to evade taxes in the amount of more than 120 million rubles. The blogger is currently being in the UAE.

The very next day, reports appeared in the media about checking the author of the marathon of desires, blogger Elena Blinovskaya for the fact of tax evasion. However, she later denied it:

“This is really frankly fake news that everyone is spreading one after another. It is clear that this topic is hot right now, but let's make posts based on objective grounds. My lawyers keep their finger on the pulse 24/7, neither they nor I have any information about this.

“Until now, the state has not been very interested in the blogosphere”

The case was commented on by Alim Bishenov, the founding partner of Bishenov&Partners law firm:

“Unfortunately, blogger Mitroshina will not be able to avoid criminal liability by relocating to the UAE. In this case, the Russian special services, if there is a judicial prospect of a criminal case, will initiate the extradition process with mandatory compliance with Russian criminal procedural norms.”

The lawyer notes that currently there are resonant cases of extradition from the UAE — for example, the case of the organiser of the Kazan financial pyramid Finiko, Edward Sabirov:

“Legal grounds for the prosecution of persons using the 'business fragmentation' scheme were presented back in 2017, and later expanded in 2018 and 2022. The law characterises a situation in which the appearance of the actions of several persons, actually covering the activities of one taxpayer, is created as a way of avoiding taxes. Therefore, from a legal point of view, there is nothing unexpected in the fact that a criminal case is initiated against bloggers. According to the Article 198 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, they still have the opportunity to absolve themselves of criminal liability, but only if they pay all the duties and penalties, since this is their first violation under this article. Another question is that until now the state has not been very interested in the blogosphere, but now the approach has obviously changed. The case of the Chekalins and Mitroshina is a signal to the blogging market that it's time to legalise," the lawyer concluded.

“We expect that a separate control will be introduced by the IFNS by the end of the year”

According to experts, in the near future the state will continue to tighten control over the activities of bloggers:

“The state has taken control of the industry of bloggers and transactions in this area. We expect that by the end of the year, separate control will be introduced by the IFNS and law enforcement agencies: digital monitoring, control purchases, analysis of communications operations. Perhaps, the accounting will be conducted informally, according to the assessment of their turnover. A plan will be put in place to collect taxes from this industry. They will increase the responsibility of counterparties for various operations — barter, gratuitous, card transfers and cash," explained Vasily Melnik, the managing partner of A+ Law Bureau.

As the lawyer noted, this means that bloggers need to independently audit their business models right now:

“What is the chosen organisational and legal form, what is the tax regime for accounting transactions — all these aspects. The risks will be especially sensitive if the blogger lives outside the Russian Federation for more than 183 days and/or transfers money from the Russian Federation," Melnik said.

Daria Pinegina

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