Irina Zingarova has spent years crafting costume characters, but her business is unraveling following a police sting that commissioned her to make three outfits closely resembling Zabivaka, the official Russian World Cup mascot.
Zingarova faces a huge fine and possible prison time after being charged with trademark violations after she delivered on a clandestine police request that she make three wearable costumes that bear a striking resemblance to Zabivaka (or "the one who scores goals").
Copying the visor-wearing, uber-cool wolf character is strictly forbidden by FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and could land her up to two years in jail under the Russian Criminal Code.
Zingarova says she was framed by police, who made the order through social media, and was roughed up by officers who posed as buyers of the allegedly contraband costumes.
The 49-year-old says that the story originates with an order made in January.
"There were no strict requirements. There was no request to include any kind of logos. The wolf just had to be cute," Zingarova tells the Volga Desk of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service. "That’s what we did, and the customers were satisfied with the result. We made a video of them and posted it on our [website] page. Not for more orders, but just to show off a bit."
Apparently smitten by what Zingarova had stitched together, a potential customer contacted her shop in April via the popular Russian social-networking site VKontakte. Identifying himself as Eldar Gaynullin, he requested a few Zabivaka-like replicas for himself.
Eventually, the two reached an agreement.
“Seventy-thousand [rubles, or about $1,130] for three figures. That’s a very little amount compared to what you find on the Internet," Zingarova explains. "We agreed that I’d have them done in a month. He came on April 8 and we agreed they’d be ready by May 9. He insisted they look like Zabivaka. I told him I couldn’t guarantee that."
Gaynullin, according to Zingarova, insisted they look exactly like Zabivaka, assuring her he had trademark permission.
On May 8, Gaynullin arrived in Kazan to pick up the agreed order. After handing over the money, he made a phone call to a "driver" to haul the merchandise away.
Instead, five people showed up. They identified themselves as police, and Gaynullin turned out to be senior police officer Ildar Gainutdinov, who announced it was a "controlled purchase," according to Zingarova.
"I thought it was some kind of gang and started to call the police to make sure they were really officers," Zingarova says. "They tried to take my phone, saying I was only making things worse. I called the police -- and it turned out they were really police officers."
When she then tried to call a lawyer, Zingarova says, police tried to grab her phone. A scuffle ensued and, according to Zingarova, she was injured.
Zingarova was summoned to a local police station on June 4, where she was informed she had violated the Russian Criminal Code on trademarks.
The arresting officer, Gainutdinov, says Zingarova herself asked whether the mascot should include the logo or not.
The creations have been shipped to Moscow for a legal evaluation to determine how similar they are to the real Zabivaka.
Zingarova is facing a 100,000- to 300,000-ruble fine ($1,600 to $4,800) or up to two years in prison.
Zingarova says that besides being roughed up by police, a video presented as evidence is missing a clip in which she asks about trademark permission.
Asked why she hadn't insisted on documentation to use FIFA trademarks, Zingarova says that "while doing the work, you forget about those details. You think the person is honest; he promised to bring it."
With the billions of dollars that the World Cup generates in and around the matches, FIFA is very keen to protect its trademarks associated with the event.
"Sponsors pay huge money for the right to link to the World Cup. They won't pay that money unless they believe FIFA will vigorously protect their interests," Clive Halperin, an intellectual-property expert, told the BBC in 2010.