Russian central banker lambasts group's illegal export of US$50 billion
By Douglas Busvine and Katya Golubkova, ReutersMOSCOW--Russia's central bank chief said nearly US$50 billion, or 2.5 percent of the national income, had been sent abroad illegally in 2012, much of it controlled by a single group of people — whom he did not identify.
February 21, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
Wednesday's findings by the Bank of Russia, one of the country's most respected institutions, amounted to an indictment of lawlessness and corruption in the system of “Kremlin capitalism” that has taken hold under President Vladimir Putin.
They also sent a parting shot from the soft-spoken Sergei Ignatyev, who retires as chairman in June after 11 years largely free of controversy. A successor has yet to be named.
“You get the impression that they are all controlled by one well organized group of people,” Ignatyev, 65, told Vedomosti newspaper in a front-page interview after the study found that more than half the flows involved firms linked to each other.
“With a serious concentration of efforts by law enforcement agencies, I think it is possible to find these people.”
He called for urgent legislation what would allow banks to close down accounts being used for dubious purposes and also urged lawmakers to tighten rules for setting up companies.
Ignatyev was citing the findings of a study that the bank said it would publish later on Wednesday. By lunchtime in Moscow, only Ignatyev's interview had been posted on the central bank's web site (http://www.cbr.ru), not the study itself.
In a further indication of its sensitivity, Ignatyev did not touch on the subject of illegal capital flight in testimony on Wednesday morning to the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. Nor was he asked about it by lawmakers.
Asked by a reporter before his testimony to identify the “well-organized group” he mentioned in the interview was making half the illegal transfers abroad, Ignatyev declined comment and left the upper house without speaking to journalists.
The Kremlin also did not comment, beyond saying that it thought the figures were exaggerated, and there was no word from the wealthy businessmen known as “oligarchs” who struck it rich after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Meanwhile, in the State Duma lower house, the former head of the chamber's ethics committee resigned his mandate after revelations that his family owned a number of apartments in the U.S. state of Florida.
The lawmaker, Vladimir Pekhtin, has denied wrongdoing two months after Putin announced a drive to “de-offshore” the economy by imposing restrictions by officials on investing abroad.
The central bank study found that US$49 billion, or around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, was spirited illegally out of Russia last year.
Anti-corruption activists say that capital flight can take any number of forms, with some banks shifting money through complex paper trails, shell companies and so-called “encashment” schemes designed to evade regulators.
Big state enterprises in particular are involved in shifting large sums of money abroad, sources say, while Russia's super-rich oligarchs use offshore centers to safeguard their businesses.