AST Publishing Group (Russian: Издательская группа «АСТ») is one of the two largest publishing houses in Russia. It was founded in 1990 as TKO "AST". As a universal publishing house, it releases fiction, non-fiction, and popular manuals. It is known for cooperation with such authors as Janusz Leon Wiśniewski, Dmitry Glukhovsky, Polina Dashkova, Sergey Lukyanenko, Sergey Minaev, Paulo Coelho, and Terry Goodkind.
The name of the company is an abbreviation of its founders' first names (Andrey-Sergei-Tatiana).
AST group includes more than a hundred companies, most of which are owned by the Cyprus offshore company A.A.B.P. Advanced Achievement Books Publishers Ltd, which, in its turn, is owned by individuals Andrey Gertsev and Yakov Khelemsky (33.35% each), Oleg Bartenev and Igor Feoktistov (9.52% each), Yuri Khatskevich (9.51%) and Yuri Deikalo (4.75%). The company's turnover is not disclosed, according to competitors' estimates, the group's revenue for June 2010-July 2011 amounted to 5.7 billion rubles.
In 2012, as a result of a tax audit, the companies belonging to the publishing group were sued for a total amount of 6.7 billion rubles. Since the beginning of June 2012, the publishing business of AST has been managed by "Eksmo". This meant that the two largest publishing companies in Russia were merging.
At the end of the 1980s, Andrey Gertsev thought of opening his own book publishing firm. He came up with the idea while collecting his own library. Andrei took up the study of the publishing business. For several years he went to weekend meetings of the Booklovers' Club in Riga (Latvian SSR) and Vilnius (Lithuanian SSR). In 1990, Andrey Gertsev with Sergei and Tatiana Derevyanko opened AST (Creative Cooperative Association "AST"). The abbreviation "AST" was formed from the names of the founders of the firm. Yakov Helemsky also took part in the work of the cooperative. Initially, the firm was engaged in trade, and began publishing books in 1992. Some of the first books published by AST were novels by Robert Ludlum, Alexandre Dumas, and Harold Robbins, as well as books based on the series "The Rich Also Cry" and "Slave Isaura". In 1993, by the decision of its founders, AST was divided into two parts: the firm "AST" was headed by Andrey Gertsev while Sergey and Tatiana Derevyanko left for "AST-Press".
In 2003, Andrey Gertsev became the founder of the publishing house Astrel-SPb, which is mainly engaged in fiction and children's literature.
By 2005, AST was already one of the largest publishing companies in Russia. In 2008, AST acquired Avanta+, a leader in the field of encyclopedias. The cost of the deal is estimated in the range from $4 million to $10 million.
Allegations of tax law violations
Back in 2005, the publishing house AST was charged with not paying taxes to the amount of $100 million. A criminal case was opened on the fact of pseudo-entrepreneurship, when employees of the Economic Security Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs discovered several dozen fly-by-night companies associated with the publishing group.
In March 2012, it became known that the tax authorities charged additional VAT and income tax amounting to 6.68 billion rubles to the companies of AST Group based on the results of their audits (including fines and penalties), which exceeds the group's annual turnover. The tax authorities accused AST in the use of reselling the books of one-day firms, where the profit was deposited, which is then deducted from the taxation. A little earlier, the Russian Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against one of the group's companies, logistics operator Polymix Center, for tax evasion to the tune of 1.5 billion rubles.
Bankruptcy and takeover by Eksmo Publishing House
On 19 April, 2012 it became known that the trading division of AST Group, OOO "Fifth Ocean", began bankruptcy proceedings due to debts exceeding 7.5 billion rubles.
At the same time, Eksmo, another major Russian publishing house, announced the possible purchase of the AST publishing group. In June 2012, Oleg Novikov, the director of Eksmo, announced that he had obtained an option to control AST.