Court finds former customs inspector guilty of bribe-taking at border ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Tax and Customs Board logo.
Tax and Customs Board logo. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Viru County Court on Thursday found Konstantin Tsernilovski, former customs inspector of the Tax and Customs Board (Maksu ja Tolliamet) who allowed men transporting illicit cigarettes across the border without customs inspection and received cigarettes and narcotic substances in return, guilty of bribe-taking and also convicted the man who bribed Tsernilovski.

Over a period lasting from spring 2019 to May 2020, three men repeatedly crossed the border at the Narva border crossing point from Russia to Estonia, bringing illegal cigarettes with them.

According to an agreement between customs inspector and shift manager Konstantin Tsernilovski and Maksim Koltsov, who transported the cigarettes, the cigarettes were brought across the border during Tsernilovski's shift when the latter permitted the men to cross the border without going through inspection or by seemingly conducting an inspection himself.

During a preliminary investigation, it was found this took place on at least 14 occasions from October of last year until May of this year.

The Viru County Court found Tsernilovski guilty of bribe-taking and Koltsov guilty of bribery and the handling of illegal narcotic substances. Tsernilovski was handed a prison sentence of two and a half years, of which three months must be served immediately as shock imprisonment. The remaining time will not be enforced if the man does not commit another intentional crime during a three-year probation period.

Koltsov was sentenced by the court to three years' imprisonment as a combined punishment for bribery and illicit drug handling, of which three months are to be served immediately, and the remainder of the imprisonment will not be enforced if the man does not commit another intentional crime within four years.

Viru District Prosecutor Liisa Nuut said it is unfortunate if there are grounds for blaming a violation of the law on a person who has been entrusted by the state with the power to prevent and deter other people's violations.

"Corruption crimes always undermine the functioning of society and in this case national security is also at stake. Therefore, the prosecutor's office requested shock imprisonment for the men with no previous punishments, which the court also ordered," Nuut said.

Andres Kangur, director of the Viru region department of the Internal Security Service, said it is important to prevent the emerging threat of corruption at the border, which can evolve into a security threat.

"The shift manager has a higher responsibility as they can also influence the work of others, which means that the risks associated with smuggling are definitely higher," Kangur said, adding that the customs inspector who committed the crime also makes himself immediately compromisable and thus a potential object of recruitment for by a foreign special service.

Eerik Heldna, head of the customs department at the Tax and Customs Board, said that, according to the Customs Act, customs have a duty to protect society and the economy.

"Customs' social protection activities at the border are directly part of comprehensive national defense. Unfortunately, one of our officials betrayed his oath of office and endangered Estonian society. Nevertheless, the state showed its strength -- this threat was ruled out in future perspective, the crime was discovered and the court has assessed the act. The Tax and Customs Board has always helped and will continue to contribute to the work of investigative authorities, thus ensuring the security of all of us, both in Estonia and in the European Union more broadly," Heldna said.

The case was investigated by the Internal Security Service and the investigation was led by the Viru District Prosecutor's Office. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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