|The State-owned foreign trade company Exportkhleb
was established during the early period of the Soviet regime. In 1951 a
new company, VO Prodintorg spun off which in its turn divided in 1966 creating
two enterprises one of which is VO Soyuzplodoimport. Stocklist of this foreign
trade association had over 200 positions of food products and agricultural
produce and raw stuff.
For years VO Soyuzplodoimport provided for the national economy a whole
series of commodities that cannot be produced in this country due to climatic
conditions (cocoa bean, coffee, bananas and some other exotic fruit, spicery,
etc.) or their production was short and could not satisfy the demand (citrus
fruit, tea, nuts, preserved food, etc). Apart from that if necessary there
was considerable import of such goods as wine and vintage, raw product
for brandy, grape-sugar, fresh fruit and vegetables, juice, etc.
VO Soyuzplodoimport was the monopoly importer of white and color vodka
brands, sparkling wines, brandy and other liquors. Naturally vodka was
the staple commodity mass shipments of which started by the end of 1950's
when VO Plodintorg established a special sales division. For almost 40
years numerous experts in foreign trade and production have been carrying
out marketing, advertising and promotion of Russian brands in European
countries, in America and on other continents. Annually, the association
participated in various international fairs and specialized exhibitions
all over the world. Promotion tasting, competitions of bar-tenders for
the best cocktail on the base of the Russian Vodka, various consumer campaigns,
etc. were regularly carried out in many countries of the world. And the
main advertising slogan ever championed was "Only Vodka from Russia
is the original Russian Vodka!". The companies that purchased Russian
Vodkas were offered considerable discounts on the price for advertising,
joint plans for vodka promotion in different markets were worked out.
Russian brands have quickly become internationally renowned: Stolichnaya
was awarded golden medals at the exhibition in Brussels (1958) and later
in Leipzig, Pardubitse and Plovdiv, Moskovskaya in Bern (1954), Brussells
(1958) and Pardubitse. Before 1992 only for advertising abroad our country
allocated over 100 million US dollars. This helped to create an image
of the Russian original Vodka as a top-of-the-line, unique and the best
liquor, which is produced of the choice Russian wheat, and having unequalled
qualities: it is both strong and mild, has a exclusive flavor and clarity
of a gem.
Every year the traditional Russian Vodkas expanded on the world market
and came up in the world. Before 1992 they were sold in almost 90 countries
and in 50 countries their brand names were registered. Soyuzplodoimport
established Subsidiaries in the USA, Germany, Great Britain, also in Brazil,
Singapore and Cyprus. About 15 brands of traditional Russian vodkas and
bitters are well known in many countries of the world. But the leading
brands are Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya. They accounted for over 90 per
cent of total shipment. Towards the 1990's VO Soyuzplodoimport exported
about 3 million deciliters of Vodka annually. The major buyers were the
USA, Germany, Greece, France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Canada, Columbia,
Australia. The best and most renowned distilleries were chosen to export
vodka. These were the Leningrad, Kuybishev, Moscow and Kaluga distilleries
among some others.
After dissolution of the USSR originally the production and trade of
liquor was completely deregulated. This resulted in anarchy in production
and home market of the spirits, a dramatic drop of legal production of
liquor in Russia and loss of federal revenue. Then the State took various
measures to cure the situation, but the diseconomy has not been overcome
in full up till now.
In January 1992 State Enterprise GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport became one of
shareholders of the new company VAO Soyuzplodoimport (consisting of about
50 legal entities at the time). A provision set forth illegally in the
Articles of Association read that it was a successor of GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport.
In June 1993 a meeting of stockholders of the VAO Soyuzplodoimport resolved
to exclude GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport from its shareholders. Later its assets
were assigned to VAO Soyuzplodoimport without any appraisal and without
any sanction of state agencies. In April 1997 VAO Soyuzplodoimport was
acquired by a number of persons lead by Y. V. Shefler. They overtook the
controlling block of stock buying it out from the employees of VAO Soyuzplodoimport,
and a number of companies. Being aware of weakness of their position the
new owners set a course for withdrawal of assets of VAO Soyuzplodoimport
and stepping down its activity. Rather soon the following measures were
taken: in June 1997 VAO Soyuzplodoimport was reorganized into ZAO Soyuzplodoimport,
that later was renamed OAO Plodovaya Kompaniya and was allegedly kept
as the successor of GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport.
In October 1997 a new private company with virtually the same name was
registered – ZAO Soyuzplodimport (omitting one "o"), headed
by A. V. Skurikhin and representing legal interests of S.P.I. group in
Russia participating in court procedures, making statements to mass media
and so on. In December 1997 VZAO Soyuzplodoimport assigned to ZAO Soyuzplodimport
its rights to trademarks of traditional Russian Vodka brands for a sum
of 1.7 million rubles (about 300 thousand US dollars). In July 1998 the
building where ZAO Soyuzplodimport has its seat up till now was sold being
undercharged and then real estate in Hamburg was sold (at that moment
it was assessed at 8 – 10 million DM). Transactions and financial settlements
were drawn out of Russia. Almost all export shipments of Vodka were concentrated
in one distillery – OAO SPI-RVVK, Kaliningrad (actual owner is the S.P.I.
Group of companies headed by Y. V. Shefler). The export price was set
at minimum (8 – 10 US dollars and less for one deciliter of Vodka). In
such circumstances there was no revenue to the Russian budget and the
whole of proceeds in hard cash remained in foreign countries.
In foreign countries trade marks of traditional Russian Vodka brands
were assigned by Y. V. Shefler to a Dutch company "Spirits International"
(where he is one of the founders as is known on good authority) which
re-registered Russia's traditional vodka trademarks in foreign countries.
Thus, in two or three years the S. P. I. Group of companies deprived Russia
of all profits it used to enjoy for use of its traditional vodka brands.
Unlawful activity of the S. P. I. Group of companies attracted attention
of the General prosecutor's office, Ministry of the Interior and the Audit
Chamber. On the order of Russia's President and Government, Ministry of
Agriculture together with some federal ministries and agencies started
a thorough work in order to get back to Russia its property – the trade
marks of the traditional Russian Vodkas and Bitters. In 2000 the Audit
Chamber of the Russian Federation revised lawfulness and expediency of
making GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport a joint stock company and its privatization.
In its report to the Government of Russia the Audit Chamber stated that
as a result of establishing VAO Soyuzplodoimport and assignment of assets
effected by GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport there was illicit alienation of state
owned property including trade marks of vodka. The Audit Chamber also
pointed out that the essential part in the process of illicit alienation
was belonged to the illegal introduction of provision into the Articles
of VAO Soyuzplodoimport and other organizations (up to OAO Plodovaya Kompaniya)
that named them as successors of GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport.
In April 2001 Ministry of Agriculture of Russia resolved to renew economic
activity of GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport which had not been liquidated. In
July 2001 as per legislation in force, it was re-registered as the Federal
State Unitary Enterprise Soyuzplodoimport. In July 2001 the Government
of Russia resolved that the Ministry of Agriculture shall hold the trade
marks for the liquors in the name of the Russian Federation.
In defense of the state interest Prosecutor General's office brought
an action against OAO Plodovaya Kompaniya demanding for nullity of its
Articles of Association in the part fixing it an assignee of GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport.
After long months of litigation in courts of various jurisdictions, on
October 16, 2001, Presidium of the High Court of Arbitration delivered
its final decision of nullity of Articles of Association of OAO Plodovaya
Kompaniya in the part fixing it assignee of GP VVO Soyuzplodoimport.
Under the decision of the Russia's Highest court of arbitration delivered
on October 26 2001, Rospatent of the Russian Federation issued a registration
certificate of the Russian Federation to the Ministry of Agriculture to
the trade marks of Stolichnaya and other brands. Thereat, on November
26, 2001, Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation informed ZAO
Soyuzplodimport of a prohibitory injunction as to using in any form of
trade-marks of vodka Stolichnaya and other traditional brands. ZAO Soyuzplodimport
were forewarned that illegal use of a trademark constitutes a civil tort
(civil damages) and a criminal offence (Art. 180, Criminal Code of the
Realizing that the crook business of misappropriation of the brands failed
the S. P. I. Group of companies took measures to transfer production of
vodka into third countries. So, in June 2001 it acquired the major Latvian
plant LATVIYAS BALSAMS, where it produces Vodka for export, make their
main profits and don't bother to pay tax to the Russian budget. All financial
operations are carried out in offshore zones. From 1997 to 2001 Russia
suffered loss as lost profit tax estimated at 40 million US dollars and
at least 120 million US dollars as hard cash proceeds that never got into
In December 2001 Government of the Russian Federation resolved to establish
a Federal State Enterprise Soyuzpodoimport that is charged with exports
and imports of all types of liquor and soft drinks, fresh and processed
vegetables and fruit, tea, coffee, spicery and other phytogenic goods.