Russian anger at parcel thefts goes viral
It's a long way from Siberia to London.
But when Sergei Lyapko from Akademgorodok saw an iPad going cheap in an online auction, he snapped it up. The Royal Mail duly despatched the item. But Russian Post failed to deliver it.
"The package arrived," Sergei told me by phone from Siberia. "But instead of a tablet computer it contained five stones!
"The weight of the parcel was almost the same as what it should have been with the computer, there was just 15 grams difference. I made an official complaint and now there are two investigations ongoing: one by Russian Post, the other by the police."
Enraged by the rocks he received, Sergei started his own website called Post Office Thieves, a forum for other Russian victims of mail theft. He has been inundated with stories. Among the victims to make contact with him are:
- A customer who bought a cell phone on a Russian internet site - but received, instead, a bar of soap
- A man who ordered a video camera - but when the parcel came it contained a bag of sugar
- A husband and wife who collected a parcel at their local post office - they had been expecting a Mac Book 3 computer but the package was empty.
"I'm going to collect all these complaints," Sergei told me, "and take them to the Russian authorities, so that they see the need to carry out checks on Russian Post."
It's not only Sergei who wants to clean up Russian Post.
At a rowdy press conference in Moscow this week, consumer protection official Alexei Samokhvalov clashed with representatives of Russian Post. He described the situation with parcel deliveries as "alarming" and "farcical". He also claimed the postal service had worked better in Soviet times.
Russian Post admits that thefts do occur. But the company strongly defends its record.
"Each year we receive, process and deliver more than 1.7 billion letters and 54 million parcels," says the service's spokesperson Raniya Yefimova.
"Of those parcels, 6.5 million contain goods from abroad, mainly items from internet shopping sites. Normally, no more than 3% of them go missing."
The Russian mail service says it does all it can to prevent such incidents and - when they happen - to investigate them.
"Russia has 380,000 postal workers at 42,000 branches," Ms Yefimova points out. "It's a huge organisation and there are all kinds of people working there. But most of our staff are very honest people.
"We don't like our staff being called thieves and bad words like that. Naturally we jump to their defence. Because we, more than anyone, work to prevent stealing."