In Russian society, the discussion of a bill on extrajudicial blocking of websites selling unregistered dietary supplements, sponsored by State Duma Vice Speaker Sergei Neverov and deputy Alexander Petrov, is gaining momentum.
Market participants, through public structures, sent an appeal to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin with a request not to make changes to the current legislation without consulting industry representatives.
Meanwhile, another federal parliamentarian, Alexander Prokopiev, whose family owns the largest domestic manufacturer of dietary supplements, the Altai company Evalar, is called the lobbyist for the adoption of the new law. Earlier, the owners of this enterprise managed to achieve the entry of their competitor, the American iHerb marketplace, into the Roskomnadzor Register of Prohibited Sites. At various stages, the head of the public organization “People’s Control” Nikolai Yakushev and the executive director of the “Union of Producers of Dietary Supplements for Food” Alexander Zhestkov, connected with Evalar, were involved in the judicial pressure on iHerb.
The official owner of Evalar is the mother of the deputy, Larisa Prokopyeva, who appears on the list of the richest women in Russia according to Forbes. The enterprise itself is considered one of the main sponsors of United Russia in the Altai Territory, which explains the participation of high-ranking members of the party in power in lobbying for the bill needed by Prokopiev. But, despite the parliamentary “roof”, “Evalar” periodically becomes a participant in high-profile scandals and litigation, including attempts to pass off manufactured bioadditives as medicines.
Deputies “hit” on dietary supplements
Since the beginning of the year, discussions have intensified in Russia on a bill on extrajudicial blocking of websites selling unregistered biologically active food additives (BAA). Recall that the document was submitted for consideration last June; its authors are the vice-speaker of the lower house, the head of the United Russia faction Sergei Neverov and a member of the United Russia Health Committee Alexander Petrov.
“According to official information from Rospotrebnadzor, the number of appeals from citizens who are concerned about the dissemination of false information about dietary supplements for food on the Internet, including complaints about online stores offering dietary supplements containing, among other things, prescription drugs, is growing every year” , says the explanatory note to the bill.
People’s representatives draw attention to the fact that it is practically impossible to identify the owners of sites and persons offering to buy unregistered supplements via the Internet, which means that the application of the judicial mechanism becomes difficult. Accordingly, a radical solution was proposed – to block such resources without a court decision.
The legislative initiative was ambiguously perceived by some representatives of the deputy corps. So, the head of the Duma Committee on Information Policy, Information Technology and Communications, Alexander Khinshtein, described it as “excessive” and “not consistent with the current legislation.” In the conclusion of the committee, blocking access to sites is called “an extreme measure that is used in the fight against critical, most serious violations of the legislation of the Russian Federation.”
At the same time, opponents of legal changes did not deny the facts of unfair advertising, when dietary supplements are presented as some kind of miracle cure for all diseases. In turn, supporters of the tightening cited as an example a case considered by the Supreme Court at the beginning of 2021, in which it was proved that one of the sites massively disseminated prohibited information that offered unregistered supplements for purchase that contained potent, psychotropic, narcotic and simply dangerous to health. toxic substances.
“Evalar” eliminates competitors?
Since January, the controversy has resumed with renewed vigor. According to Kommersant, market participants through the Association of Internet Trade Companies (AKIT) and the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEC) sent an appeal to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin asking not to adopt legislative changes without consulting with industry representatives. The main argument of the applicants is that the amendments equate the sale of goods not allowed for circulation via the Internet to information about suicide methods and drug production. This, in turn, threatens with a massive closure of online trading companies, whose turnover, in 2021 alone, reached 3.6 trillion rubles.
The response of the authors of the initiative was made last week. In particular, Sergei Neverov said that the new version of the document contains specific cases when products are recognized as prohibited for circulation. According to him, they will not completely block online stores for violating the designated norms, since “a page-by-page mechanism is proposed.” At the same time, the deputy stressed that the bill does not suit large venues. “To freely sell what is prohibited in other countries is well implemented in our market,” Neverov added.
Observing such activation, one involuntarily asks the question: is it really only concern for the health of the nation that prompted the deputies to actually clean up the Internet space from unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors of uncertified products? As one would expect, an alternative point of view is also voiced.
“The bill was the result of competition between Russian companies producing dietary supplements and foreign sites, which, due to the specifics of Russian and supranational legislation, feel better in terms of taxation … It is in this conflict of interest that I see the source of the emergence of online commerce that is dangerous for the entire market, and our society in general, a precedent for extrajudicial blocking of goods that are not restricted in circulation, ”Artem Sokolov, president of AKIT, said in an interview with Lenta.Ru.
A specific interested legal entity was also named an expert – this is the largest Russian manufacturer of dietary supplements, the Evalar company. In turn, Kommersant, citing interviewed market participants, writes about the bill as “part of the sensational Evalar company against the American iHerb marketplace.” By the way, in January, the media reported that the iHerb online store was included in the register of banned sites of Roskomnadzor. The basis was the decision of the Central District Court of Barnaul, adopted on August 24, 2021. The prosecutor’s office filed a claim for blocking, thus responding to the appeal of representatives of the Altai regional public organization of consumers “People’s Control”.
Business mother of deputy Prokopiev
In iHerb, the pressure that has begun is also associated with Evalar. The fact is that the headquarters of this campaign is located in Barnaul, where a court decision was made to block the site. In addition, according to the portal “Taiga. Info, Nikolay Yakushev (at that time a member of the Altai Territorial Legislative Assembly from United Russia), one of the leaders of the People’s Control prosecutor’s office who filed a complaint, is the director for development and medical direction of the non-profit partnership Altai Biopharmaceutical Cluster, which unites drug manufacturers and dietary supplements, among the participants of which is CJSC “Evalar”.
But that’s not all. According to Forbes, Evalar is also associated with the executive director of the Union of Producers of Dietary Supplements for Food, Alexander Zhestkov, who was directly involved in initiating proceedings in the Ulyanovsk court, which ordered iHerb to remove its application from the Russian App Store and Google Play in 2019. store. It turns out that Zhestkov, who wrote an appeal to the prosecutor’s office (a scenario absolutely similar to the one that was later played out by People’s Control), served as an assistant to State Duma deputy Alexander Prokopyev, the son of the official owner of Evalar, Larisa Prokopyeva. Thus, the picture is becoming clearer, and in the light of all that has been said, the reports on telegram channels that the adoption of the necessary decision in the Barnaul court allegedly cost the influential family 50 million rubles are not surprising.
In this context, the hidden lobbying activity of the deputy becomes quite logical, who, preferring to “not shine” (he is generally a member of the Committee on Tourism and does not seem to be directly connected with healthcare), uses connections with United Russia colleagues at the federal and regional levels to promote family commercial interests , as well as “tamed” social activists, such as Zhestkov and “People’s Control” headed by Yakushev. Prokopiev himself cannot initiate the adoption of the necessary bill, because the deputies Neverov and Petrov are doing it for him. The question is how selfless their efforts are.
The financial performance of Evalar CJSC is impressive: at the end of 2020, with a revenue of 10.7 billion rubles, its profit amounted to 4.5 billion. Last year, the owner of the company, Larisa Prokopyeva, took 24th place in the Forbes rating of “25 richest women in Russia.” We emphasize: the media have repeatedly called “Evalar” one of the main sponsors of “United Russia” in the Altai Territory. Thus, there is no doubt that the party in power, if necessary, will provide all possible support to the necessary enterprise.
And the company is regularly included in the top of the largest Russian advertisers. The main customer of positive publications in the press is the “Alexander Prokopiev Foundation”, but last December the deputy officially withdrew from among its founders. The people’s choice himself prefers to prudently distance himself from commerce: his share in Farmavest LLC, which specializes in publishing, has been transferred to trust management. As for Evalar itself, in addition to her mother, the sister of the parliamentarian Natalya Prokopyeva, who heads the Board of Directors of the enterprise, also takes part in the management of the company.
Advertising fraud and a bet abroad
But, despite advertising and creating the most positive image, the largest Russian manufacturer of dietary supplements has repeatedly found itself at the center of high-profile scandals. So, in 2013, employees of the Kurgan regional Rospotrebnadzor recorded the content of arsenic in a batch of the drug Blueberry-forte with lutein produced by Evalar. And then the administration of the native Altai Territory came to the aid of the enterprise, where during the meeting it was decided to conduct their own examination on the basis of the regional “Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology”. Of course, the new study did not reveal any signs of a dangerous substance.
The company was also accused of violating advertising laws. For example, back in 2011, by a court decision, Evalar was fined 100 thousand rubles for advertising the bioadditive Glycine Forte Evalar, which was presented as a drug, in fact, not being such. Moreover, manufacturers convinced the consumer that the dietary supplement is more effective than the well-known medical preparation Glycine. A year later, history repeated itself: this time, the medicinal properties were attributed to dietary supplements “AD minus” and “Inulin forte Evalar”.
And such cases are far from isolated. In 2016, the company had to pay a 100,000th fine for an untrue advertisement for Laura peptide cosmetics. In the same year, the Federal Antimonopoly Service recognized the advertising of the drug “CI-KLIM” as unreliable, supposedly slowing down the aging process, which did not correspond to the instructions for its use. In 2019, the antimonopoly department imposed an administrative fine on Evalar in the amount of 200 thousand rubles for contextual advertising of the drug Ginkoum.
It turns out that the nimble Prokopiev family is intensively selling fuflomycin of its own production under the guise of medicines, while not sparing money on advertising. This does not always work, but what is a fine of 100-200 thousand rubles for an enterprise with billions in turnover? It is significant that in recent years Evalar prefers to register its products not in Russia, but in Armenia and Kazakhstan. In the latter, the dietary supplement Red Root, produced by a Russian company, was for some time in the Register of Non-Conforming Products due to the content of a synthetic inhibitor, tadalafil, in it (for the same reason, dietary supplements for potency Ali Caps and Sealex forte”).