“I am not afraid of the new Instagram* algorithms and the fact that they will stop promoting me. I have my audience, and I know how to keep such high activity, as I have been doing for 5-6 years, ”Chekalina, known under the nickname ler_chek, said in an interview with Forbes last year. 10.4 million people subscribed to the blogger on Instagram, and 692.1 thousand people to the Telegram account. Her husband, businessman Artem Chekalin, is no less a media person with 4 million followers on Instagram.
The couple got married in 2012. According to Chekalina, the main income then fell on her husband, who until 2015 was engaged in customs clearance of imported fruits and vegetables. But after the ban on the import of agricultural products from Turkey, Chekalin’s company went bankrupt. According to SPARK, in 2014-2016, Chekalin was indeed the general director of MT-Project LLC, which was engaged in the wholesale trade in fruits and vegetables, but its bankruptcy was filed only on March 3, 2023.
Chekalina created an Instagram page back in 2011, where she first posted purely everyday things: food, workouts, her own photos. After the failure of her husband’s business, Chekalina began to actively maintain a “mom blog”, and then moved on to the topic of fitness. And over time it began to bring real income.
Later, she started running marathons for weight loss, one of the largest took place at the end of the summer of 2020. Then the prizes were an Audi A3 car and a cash reward of 3 million rubles. In addition to fitness and proper nutrition, Chekalina taught subscribers to “pump financial thinking” in her New Life marathon and was going to give knowledge on investments. The average cost of cheap fares for these marathons ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 rubles.
In Novaya Zhizn, Chekalin said that he was born into a wealthy family, but his parents did not buy him an apartment, so he decided to make money on it himself. The media note that Artyom’s father is “a big businessman and official.” However, information about the entrepreneur Alexander Chekalin, who would have a direct connection with the family of bloggers, could not be found in the public domain.
In 2020, Forbes placed Chekalina in 7th place in the ranking of bloggers who earn the most on Instagram. Then the publication estimated her advertising revenue at $ 0.61 million. In the January ranking of the most popular Instagram pages from Medialogia, Chekalina took fourth place. Ekaterina Varnava, Philip Kirkorov and Valery Meladze performed at the blogger’s birthday party last year.
On March 7, the Moscow Department of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against the Chekalins. They were accused of non-payment of taxes for 311 million rubles. The Metropolitan Prosecutor’s Office has already filed charges. The investigation found out that Chekalina created an individual entrepreneur, switched to a simplified taxation system with an allowable income limit of 150 million rubles a year, and in 2020-2022 split the fitness marathon business. Income exceeded the limit, but Chekalina was not going to switch to the general taxation system, so she registered her earnings with her husband, his mother, Chekalin’s brother Arkady and his wife Anna, writes Mash. According to him, since 2020, Chekalina has been able to spend about 990 million rubles in this way and underpaid the state 329.6 million rubles.
Bloggers are charged with Part 2 of Art. 198, part 5 of Art. 33, part 2 of Art. 198 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (evasion and complicity in tax evasion from an individual).
According to the TFR, Chekalina evaded paying value added tax during the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2020, from the 1st to the 3rd quarters of 2021, as well as personal income tax for 2020-2021 for a total amount of more than 311 million rubles.
Searches took place not only at the bloggers themselves, but also their family members. It was reported that the security forces raided the Chekalins’ mansion with an area of 400 sq.m. in the elite cottage village “Ilyinka Lanehouse” in the Moscow region. There, among other things, they found 8 kg of pure gold of the 999th test. According to the “Company”, bloggers are building another mansion of almost 2.2 thousand square meters. in the no less elite village of Agalarov Estate in Istra near Moscow. A similar house in the same area costs almost 600 million rubles, but the Shot Telegram channel, citing its data, estimated its construction at 1 billion rubles.
Bloggers have other real estate as well. So, according to the “Company”, Valery Chekalina recorded:
An apartment in Tolyatti with an area of almost 210 sq. m (sold in November 2013);
A mansion in the Agalarov Estate with an area of 2.2 thousand m (from 600 million to 1 billion rubles);
An apartment in the residential complex “Zilart” with an area of 74.7 m2 (approximately 30 million rubles).
To Artem Chekalin:
Apartment on Serpukhovsky Val in Moscow with an area of 150 sq.m (approximately 60 million rubles);
Two apartments on Dekabristov Street in the north-east of Moscow (83 sq.m., about 20 million rubles and 38. sq.m., 10 million rubles, respectively);
A country house in Ilyinka Lanehouse in the Moscow region with an area of about 400 sq.m (approximately 130 million rubles).
In 2018, Chekalina purchased a Porsche Cayenne car (about 11 million rubles), which she sold in 2021. In the same year, she got a Bentley Continental GT V8 (about 17 million rubles). Recorded on the husband:
Lamborghini Urus 2021 (about 28 million rubles);
Mercedes-Benz G-Class Amg G 63 2021 (about 25 million rubles);
According to Shot, Chekalin loves to drive fast, thanks to which he has received more than 400 fines for 500 thousand rubles.
According to the Company’s calculations, the minimum total amount of all real estate, including cars and gold bars, registered with bloggers, is about 1.37 billion rubles.
The Chekalins’ lawyer, Mikhail Mushailov, told Gazeta.ru that bloggers “are not in danger of any punishment.” “A criminal case can be initiated against a person, or it can be initiated simply because of the commission of a crime by unidentified persons. In our case, the second situation takes place, ”he explained. Mikhail Mushailov and the representative of the Chekalins, Yulia Gromova, did not answer the Company’s questions.
On March 7, the bloggers themselves did not communicate with subscribers and the media. The next day, Chekalin said on his Instagram page that they had paid 1.5 billion rubles in taxes over the past year and a half and planned to pay off the debts presented so as not to bring the matter to prison.
Chekalina, in her stories, thanked subscribers for their support and at the same time advertised her new product – the online producer’s course “PRO-launch with Valeria Chekalina”, in which she promises to teach “make millions of launches”, set up “correct thinking” and, together with a psychologist, “work out negative beliefs. The basic format will cost 89 thousand rubles, premium – 120 thousand rubles, and VIP with a separate chat and mentor – 179 thousand rubles.
IP Chekalina takes full responsibility for online marathons. According to the most recent data at the disposal of the “Company”, officially in 2021, the IP brought her 150 million rubles.
But the cosmetic brand Letique brings more income to Chekalina. It does not have its own production, so ten different productions create products under the contract. Letique has two divisions: Letique Cosmetics and Letique Makeup. Under the name of the first, care products are sold: from anti-cellulite wraps to moisturizing masks. Letique Makeup is a decorative cosmetics.
Legally, the Letique business is registered with Bee Fit LLC. In 2021, the company earned 2.9 billion rubles, net profit – 657.7 million. The owners of Bee Fit are Valeria Chekalina (75%) and a certain Roman Vishnyak (25%), the CEO is Artem Chekalin.
The Letique Makeup sub-brand is registered as a separate legal entity – Letik Makeup LLC, 70% of which is owned by Chekalin, 30% by Vishnyak. The company in 2021 earned 113.7 million rubles, net profit – 60 million rubles. Its CEO is Evgeny Kachailov, who in 2017 took part in the elections of deputies of the Left Bank district of Moscow. At various times, he owned and managed several companies, but now Kachaylov occupies the chair of the general director only in Letik Makeup LLC and Letikbad LLC, registered on February 21, 2023. Probably, dietary supplements will soon be released under the Letique brand. Kachaylov refused to answer the questions of the “Company”.
Another Chekalin company, the unprofitable Ecoflow LLC, may be associated with Letique. Nothing is known about the company’s products, but since 2022 it has been the owner of the trademark of the same name, which is visually similar to the Letique trademark. The CEO of Ecoflow LLC is Igor Vishnyak. He read the request of the “Company” in Telegram, and instead of answering, he added the correspondent of the publication to the black list.
The demand for cosmetics by Chekalina is largely artificial, wrote the Telegram channel “The Price of Beauty”. And as proof, she notes that immediately after the launch of Letique, the blogger launched the “Wheel of Fortune” – an eternal drawing with large prizes, in order to participate in which you need to buy cosmetics. The Wheels interface is built on the principle of roulette, constantly stimulating gambling subscribers to buy more. In December 2021, Chekalina even promised to close loans to ten winners.
As a result, thousands of advertisements for the resale of Letique funds, which were bought up like lottery tickets. “There are even those who spent their entire salary on Letique products, but, without winning the promised apartment, sells new cosmetics at a discount,” the Telegram channel noted.
Moreover, many brand products are secondary. So, beauty blogger Olya RedAutumn found extremely many similarities between Letique mascara and Cabaret mascara from Vivienne Sabo, body oils with a similar product from Tom Ford, and lipsticks with Charlotte Tilbury lip cosmetics. At the same time, Letique’s prices are the same as those of luxury brands. However, Letique decorative cosmetics are produced at the factory of the budget brand Alvin D`Or (retailers have a “fork” of prices – 200-500 rubles per product, writes “Price of Beauty”.
In addition to creams and masks, Chekalina offers to buy a Letique franchise – a shopping “island” in a shopping center “with a payback of 6 months or more.” She promises a turnover of 600 thousand per month and no royalties. To cooperate with the Chekalins, a potential franchisee must make a lump-sum contribution of 90 thousand rubles and prepare at least 1.19 million rubles as an investment.
Blogger Anna Cherednichenko spoke about the problematic nature of such a business in 2020. According to her, the management of Letique forbade franchisees to hold promotions, but at the same time they themselves launched discounts and sweepstakes on the official website, the margins of cosmetics were low. “If the founder (Valeria Chekalina) has an ad on Instagram, they run to buy. No advertising – no one remembers us, ”Cherednichenko said. The concept of a business model was also alien to the Chekalins, they saw the following scheme: profit is revenue minus production costs and rent. At the same time, “for some reason, they did not take into account the salaries of employees, taxes and other expenses,” Cherednichenko was surprised. And there are dozens of such victims across the country, Shot clarifies.
At the end of December 2021, the Chekalins’ business empire became even wider – the blogger, together with Anna Chekalina, who is married to Artem Chekalin’s brother Arkady, launched the Leani women’s underwear brand. The general director of Leani LLC is Arkady Chekalin (30%), the beneficiary is his brother Artem (the remaining 70%). The brand’s financial results for the past year are unknown, but, according to Kompaniya’s estimates, Chekalin’s underwear sales have brought at least 9 million rubles since the creation of Leani, excluding taxes and commissions.
Thus, in 2021, the entire business of the Chekalins, including advertising on both pages on Instagram, brought them at least 3.1 billion rubles of income.
The security forces’ hunt for the blogger family could have started with a conflict between Chekalina and her former stylist Elvira Yankovskaya, the author of the Telek Telek YouTube channel, who specializes in bloggers and their sales, notes in an interview with Kompaniya. Last August, Chekalina alleged that celebrity stylist Yankovskaya had been deceiving her for a long time by selling fake luxury brand products. The blogger, along with other victims, of which there were more than 15 people, filed a class action lawsuit against the stylist, estimating their damage at more than 8 million rubles.
Yankovskaya denied her guilt, but the Perovsky Court of Moscow placed her under house arrest on February 4, wrote Super.ru. At the same time, right before the searches at the bloggers’ houses, Yankovskaya was released from house arrest, Mash notes. The author of the Telek Telek YouTube channel did not rule out that the stylist could make a deal with the investigation. However, her lawyer denies this in every way, stating that the searches at the Chekalins and the court’s refusal to extend Yankovskaya’s house arrest “have nothing to do with each other and are under the jurisdiction of different departments.”
Before the luxury controversy, in 2021, Chekalina and Yankovskaya created the Le Force sportswear brand (the site has been archived).
To do this, they created LEA LLC, where the stylist acted as the general director. There is only one person on the list of employees working for the company. The company has not yet provided information on income to the authorities.
In general, tax avoidance is a common savings option for bloggers selling courses, notes the author of the Telek Telek YouTube channel. Moreover, it used to be “openly taught.” “For example, it was possible to meet course producers who said so: “when working with me, you will pay a minimum of taxes” or “I will teach you to pay a minimum of taxes,” the Company’s interlocutor clarifies.
According to him, such bloggers used a simplified taxation system instead of a general one, received a patent as tutors or teachers and paid only 40,000 rubles in a fixed tax, earning 60 million on one individual entrepreneur, which in fact could have opened a dozen.
For example, makeup artist Gohar Avetisyan worked according to such a scheme, recalls YouTube blogger Victoria Yutubnaya, author of the YouTube channel. The make-up artist had six websites of the same course, indicating different IPs in the payment details.
Meanwhile, the interlocutors of the publication disagree about the reputational consequences for the Chekalins in their games with the state. Yutubnaya believes that subscribers now unfamiliar with the revelations of the Chekalins will look at this family from a different angle, since in many public places where bloggers have not previously appeared, “they are exposed as information gypsies.” “For a part of their audience and their target customer, this will be a discovery,” Yutubnaya is sure.
The author of the Telek Telek YouTube channel is more skeptical. As an argument, he cited the example of infoblogger Alexandra Mitroshina, who was charged with 200 million rubles of debt to the state last year by the tax authorities. According to the interlocutor of the “Company”, the blogger sold several more courses, the income from which went to pay the fine and continues to work. According to his observations, part of the audience is sure that the searches are “just the start of a “warm-up” to a new course.”
The author of the Telek Telek Youtube channel calls “cunning and permissiveness” the main reasons for bloggers’ fraud with taxes.
“Influencers have realized that they are selling their useless courses to a large number of people, that is, formally, they are engaged in deception. And they decided that they could deceive in both directions: not only subscribers, but also the state.
And checks will not end on the Chekalins. A large-scale check of the Federal Tax Service awaits several dozen more bloggers, including the author of the “Marathon of Desires” Elena Blinovskaya, the wife of rapper Dzhigan Oksana Samoilova, the founder of the Transformer business club Dmitry Portnyagin and others, wrote Telegram channel “112”. Kommersant’s sources in the Investigative Committee told about the same.
As for the Chekalins, the head of the New People party, Alexei Nechaev, unexpectedly stood up for them. He stated that they “did not make a house and a car for themselves on government contracts and corruption schemes”, but “earned money themselves and spent it as they saw fit”, and in general “they are the very drivers of the economy that the authorities constantly talk about, not corrupt officials who should be ashamed. Nechaev promised to discuss this topic at a party meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. “Such family businesses need to be supported, and not cut off their wings on takeoff,” Nechaev concluded.
*Meta is recognized as an extremist organization in Russia and banned. The company’s products – Facebook and Instagram – are also banned in Russia.