LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Los Angeles travel agency claims it was defrauded and harassed because it refused to pay bribes to the Russian airline Aeroflot.
Riviera Travel & Tours says Aeroflot's U.S.-based officials turned the screws on it after it won exclusive West Coast wholesale rights to Aeroflot tickets.
Ironically, Russian executives at Aeroflot claimed they offered the deal to Riviera to weed out corruption, and "Riviera Travel was the only inspected agency having never bribed an Aeroflot agent or representative," according to the complaint.
Riviera Travel & Tours sued Andrey V. Novokshonov, Alexey M. Aleksandrov, and Joint Stock Company Aeroflot-Russian Airlines, in a 17-count, 48-page federal RICO complaint. Novokshonov is the general manager of Aeroflot USA, and Aleksandrov its regional manager in Los Angeles, according to the complaint. Both are citizens of Russia.
Riviera says it opened an office in Beverly Hills on Jan. 1, 2005, after "the final decision to award Riviera the exclusive West Coast contract," upon which "Aeroflot informed all other travel agencies on the West Coast of the elimination of all wholesale agreements between such agencies and Aeroflot."
But it didn't last.
The complaint states: "As soon as Riviera was granted exclusive wholesale contract with Aeroflot, unscrupulous Aeroflot USA representatives, including Aeroflot USA's general director Anatoly Deloveri ('Deloveri') made numerous illegal kickback and bribe elicitations. Riviera quelled such attempts by Deloveri and the other Aeroflot USA representatives.
"As Riviera's customers from the former Soviet Union, especially the American-Armenian customers from Hollywood and Glendale, became wealthier in time and more inclined to travel back to their native homelands, Riviera's sales volumes substantially increased. The approaches for illegal bribes by Aeroflot representatives intensified as Riviera's sales volumes increased."
In early 2007, the complaint states, "Deloveri approached Riviera with the illegal purpose of extorting bribes and kickbacks. Deloveri told Riviera's president Caren Tumanian 'the times have now changed' and asserted that in order for Riviera to keep its Aeroflot contract, Riviera would have to kick back a portion of sales profits directly to Deloveri for each ticket sold. Deloveri stated to Tumanian that 'Moscow didn't give you the contract for your beautiful eyes. Either Riviera gives us a kickback for each ticket sold, or we will take your contract from you.' When Riviera refused to yield to Deloveri's demands, Deloveri promised that Riviera will regret its decision."
Deloveri is not named as a defendant.
In this case, Riviera says, Deloveri was true to his word: It promptly lost its wholesale contract to an East Coast competitor and was forced out of the Beverly Hills office building it shared with Aeroflot. "The offices are currently occupied by Downtown Travel, subsidiary of Riviera's competitor from the East Coast, which now enjoys the exclusive rights Riviera once had and the customer base which took Riviera numerous years to painstakingly and scrupulously develop," the complaint states.
But that's not all, Riviera says. It claims that Deloveri "fraudulently and maliciously concealed from authorities in Moscow that Riviera had been prohibited from wholesaling," and continued to harass it when it refused to pay kickbacks or bribes.
Riviera says it also had to pay fraudulent "no show" refunds, when LAX Aeroflot officials prevented customers who actually showed up from boarding planes.
Riviera says it had to pay $120,000 in fraudulent no-show refunds from 2007 to 2010.