Sergei Borisov, chairman of Opora's advisory board, says business owners' struggles with red tape and taxes are driving them into the black market. He is convinced that most of those who wound down their businesses due to recent tax increases have merely stopped paying taxes and are now working illegally.
"The government is losing the taxes of people who could have been paying them," Borisov said. "This has boosted the illegal market and it is boosting the corruption coffers of law enforcement agencies."
On top of bureaucracy, criminal prosecution is another all-too-real problem for Russia's businesses. By 2011, one in six business people in Russia had faced criminal charges, according to research by the Moscow-based Center for Legal and Economic Studies. About 120,000 people are serving prison sentences in Russia for economic crimes.
Yakovleva, the head of the business advocacy group, was a co-owner of a chemical company in 2006 when she was thrown in jail. She spent seven months in custody before her case was dropped. She claims the charges were brought by anti-narcotics police after she and her business partner refused to pay kickbacks on sales of an industrial solvent used in drug production.
"It doesn't matter if you abide by all the laws," said Yakovleva. "They (officials) can always pay you a visit and accuse you of any absurd thing, which will then be approved by a court."
Boris Titov, who was appointed by Putin last year as an ombudsman for business people, said he was amazed to learn with what disregard many police officers and prosecutors view private business owners.
"They often doubt that doing business is necessary at all and that the country needs a class of entrepreneurs," Titov said at Russia's top economic conference in June.
This view is largely a legacy of the Soviet Union, when people were sent to prison for trying to make profit. The murky privatizations after the 1991 Soviet collapse reinforced the idea that fortunes were never made honestly.
The difficulties of doing business in Russia are pushing many to try their luck elsewhere. In one week in July, two of the five most-read stories on the website of the popular business weekly Kommersant Dengi were about how to settle abroad.
Sucher, the American businessman who is now on the board of directors of investment company Aton, said that during his 20 years in Russia he has seen many of his Russian friends leave or lay the groundwork for emigration.
"The guys work in Moscow but their wives and families spend most of their time overseas," he said.
That might work for the wealthier people. For many others, the options are fewer and tougher.
According to Yakovleva, there's a joke being shared by many business owners in Moscow:
"What's the best kind of business in Russia?"
"The one you've sold."
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