When the U.S. government has a beef with a corporation, here's how it usually goes down. First, the SEC sends a polite letter requesting documents. Then it opens an informal investigation. A few months, or years, later, the investigation may become formal. At some point, the Department of Justice might join the party. Ultimately, years later and often after the investing public has forgotten there was ever a controversy, the company "admits no wrongdoing," pays a fine of a couple mil, and the whole thing is forgotten.
That's how it works in the United States, at least. In Russia, they do things a bit differently. Instead of a politely worded letter, a company is as likely to be greeted early one morning by a troop of masked OMON storm troopers packing AK-47s and a search warrant.
On Wednesday, international IT powerhouse IBM
According to Interfax, a total of 10 locations were raided yesterday, but no one's exactly sure who did the raiding or what they were looking for. A quote from Lanit's spokesman illustrates: "We don't know who is conducting the search or what they are looking for." Agencies as varied as the Federal Customs Service, the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General's office, and the Moscow-level versions of the latter two agencies (the Militsia and Moscow prosecutor's office) have been posited as being behind the raids, but when asked, some of those offices denied their involvement flat out, while others simply refused to comment.
So much for the "whos." As for the "whys," Russian newspapers are floating several theories. Most center on an alleged conspiracy by senior Fund officials to defraud the government by buying computers at inflated prices. Whether that actually happened, though, and whether IBM in particular was involved, remains an open question. According to Kommersant, IBM has sold the Fund 1,000 servers and about 50,000 PCs as part of what IBM itself terms "the largest European mid-range server deployment." So guilty or not, it's natural that the government is interested in at least seeing IBM's internal documents on the project.
But really, storm troopers? Next time, they might want to start with a phone call.
Russia is getting famous for its, um, unorthodox methods of law enforcement. Read, for example, about the trials and tribulations of VimpelCom
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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above.