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BBC Monitoring
Russia: Murmansk bailiffs seize cucumbers over unpaid energy bills
Source: NTV, Moscow, in Russian 1300 gmt 25 Jun 03

[Presenter] A peculiar situation is taking shape in Murmansk Region. The power provider is seizing cucumbers as payment for pending electricity bills. Bailiffs are working at the facilities of the debtor - the local hothouse farm. The hothouse management is predicting the bankruptcy of the farm soon. In such a situation, debts keep on accumulating. Help from the authorities alone may save the farm. Dmitriy Vysotskiy has the details.

[Correspondent] The Murmansk hothouse farm - the most northern in the world - used to be a must for bringing in visiting VIP guests to show cucumbers and tomatoes grown behind the Arctic Circle all year round. Today bailiffs are following their steps. The farm owes R35m [over 1.15m dollars] to the power company. And the latter has stopped turning a blind eye to the debts lately.

Bailiffs admit that this is their first experience of seizing vegetables. However, there is no other way to get the money from the farm. The distrained harvest goes to wholesalers directly from the farm's warehouse. For them, the seized cucumbers and tomatoes are just heaven-sent.

[Sergey Volik, deputy director of the Murmansk hothouse farm, captioned] Just imagine: they will get our produce and sell it, say, 40 per cent cheaper. Tomorrow I will not be able to sell it at today's price. Everybody will refuse to pay more expecting a cheap sale.

[Correspondent] Moreover, it makes no sense to sell even what has been left after the bailiffs, as farm's banks accounts are frozen.

[Natalya Senicheva, employee, captioned] It is awful when we grow our produce - and it is high season now - and will have to stay without being paid for our work. When these comrades are taking all our money.

[Correspondent] Under such circumstances, the northernmost hothouse will stay afloat till autumn. And then - inevitable bankruptcy. Over 200 employees will find themselves on the street. Murmansk Region residents, meanwhile, will have nothing left to do but to buy imported vegetables, paying through their noses.

[Lyubov Balakereva, Murmansk hothouse farm director, captioned] As soon as the farm quits the market, the price hike is inevitable. I cannot even predict what price we'll have. It can be anything at the seller's whim.

[Correspondent] The regional authorities - the Murmansk hothouse farm owner - are deadly calm in the face of the developments. The farm's closure will allow the saving of budgetary funds allocated to the hothouse as subsidy.

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