Russian investigators said on July 26 that they have searched the office and home of the country's top customs official in connection with a smuggling case, the second high-profile security services action against another government agency in a week.
The federal Investigative Committee said in a July 26 statement http://sledcom.ru/news/item/1056642/ that its agents searched the office and home of Andrei Belyaninov, head of the Federal Customs Agency, and the home of his former adviser, businessman Sergei Lobanov, earlier in the day.
The committee, Russia's analogue to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the searches were conducted in connection with a criminal case involving alcohol smuggling that led to the arrest of three businessmen in St. Petersburg in March.
The action suggests that behind-the-scenes tensions may be mounting between some Russian government agencies, which have regularly been locked in fierce competition for resources and turf since President Vladimir Putin's rise to power 16 years ago.
Many of these clashes are assiduously shielded from the populace, though they have occasionally boiled over into public view with arrests of officials by rival agencies.
Gazeta.ru on July 26 published photographs taken during the search of Belyaninov's home, one of which showed the customs chief standing next to a table covered with stacks of cash that the popular news portal said were discovered in shoeboxes at the residence.
The state-run TASS news agency cited an unidentified source as saying that investigators found various currencies totaling some $850,000 at Belyaninov's home. The Kremlin-friendly television network Ren-TV cited an anonymous source as saying that the customs chief explained that the cash is his family's savings.
Several Russian media outlets reported that agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the country's main domestic security agency, also took part in the searches.
The Russian customs sector has long been rife with corruption, with officials controlling the lucrative passage of goods across the border.
There was no immediate statement from investigators indicating that Belyaninov, who has served as head of the Federal Customs Agency since 2006, is facing charges.
Several Russian media outlets cited unidentified sources as saying that he had tendered his resignation several months ago.
Neither the customs agency nor Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed reports that Belyaninov had earlier offered to step down.
“I don't know,” Peskov told reporters when asked on July 26.
The search of Belyaninov's home and office comes a week after the FSB arrested three powerful Investigative Committee officials over allegations that included taking bribes from a crime syndicate.