Nearly 200 Chinese traders detained for a month following a clampdown on a vast wholesale market in Moscow have been released, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.
The ministry said the Chinese merchants were allowed to go after paying a fine. They were believed to have been released between July 27 and July 29.
The traders' release came after Vice-Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng went to Moscow to discuss the issue late last month.
Russian officials were reported to have told Mr Gao's delegation that the traders were placed under investigation for fraudulently reporting their personal information, including names of organisations that invited them to Moscow and registered addresses. The officials also said they lacked work permits.
The delegation set up a co-ordination group on July 25, which established a round-the-clock hotline and hired two Russian lawyers to consult the Chinese traders.
The shutdown of Cherkizovsky Market came without warning on June 29. Russian police seized US$5 billion worth of goods and detained the Chinese traders in the name of a crackdown on smuggling.
A spokesman was quoted in Oriental Outlook - a weekly magazine run by Xinhua - as saying no Chinese traders had managed to get their goods back without payment. Russian police said traders were free to pick up confiscated goods.
The market opened 20 years ago and covers an area of 300 hectares, making it the largest in Europe.
It is estimated that over 60,000 Chinese firms use the market, most from affluent coastal provinces Zhejiang and Fujian as well as northeastern Heilongjiang .
State media reports quoted Chinese traders as saying police had searched high and low for them. A businesswoman said she was forced to pay 10,000 roubles (HK$2,500) or face deportation.
Other reports blamed corruption among Russian officials cashing in on a 'grey customs clearance' system that sprang up with the end of the Soviet Union.