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Poof! Where'd Tax Money Go? Russian Police Wonder

When David Copperfield came to Russia earlier this month, the Russian company that promoted his tour may have learned a few tricks from the American magician.

To the chagrin of government tax authorities, who were expecting the government to get its cut of the reported $3 million in profits, the company apparently has disappeared into thin air.

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Created last April just to organize Mr. Copperfield's shows, World Star Promotion (WSP) booked halls in the Kremlin and in St. Petersburg, sold tickets for as much as $850 each, and then made off with the money, according to the business newspaper Komersant Daily.

The disappearing promoter

Mr. Copperfield got his cut, and the concert halls were paid too. But somehow the promoters - apparently acting quite independently of the world-famed magician - forgot to drop a rabbit into the taxman's hat before dissolving their company, alleges the daily.

The incident is all too typical of business practices in post-Soviet Russia. When the Tax Police tried to get to the reality behind the illusion, they found that the parents of WSP founder Dmitri Shumov hadn't heard from their son for two months. They had no idea of his whereabouts.

So investigators went to the man listed as having bought the company from Mr. Shumov, one Oleg Korolyov. Mr. Korolyov knew nothing about magicians or a promotion company - other than that his passport had been stolen last year. Clearly, he had been used.

Can't 'storm the Kremlin'

Next the Tax Police went to the Palace of Congresses in the Kremlin, the hall where Copperfield had performed in Moscow. The Palace is no stranger to deception and fantasies: It was built to host Soviet Communist Party congresses. But the manager would not allow the Tax Police to take any documents away as evidence.

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"Under normal circumstances we could seize documents by force," a tax official told Komersant Daily. "But storming the Kremlin would be too much."

If Copperfield would be so kind, Russian tax officials could use his assistance. Perhaps he could find something in their coffers that isn't there but should be - a few hundred thousand dollars?

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