German Gorbuntsov: The controversial banker who thought he had escaped his enemies back home


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The Independent Online

German Gorbuntsov is neither the first banker to seek refuge in Britain from the brutal war within corporate Russia, nor the first to recognise that its relatively free society provides limited protection from the battles left behind.

Offering comparative security and the professional white-collar expertise to continue their lucrative financial careers, London has increasingly become a base of choice for the Russian elite, allowing them to leave their offspring in highly regarded private schools and even perform a weekly commute to Moscow.

Mr Gorbuntsov joined their ranks in 2010 after he fled Russia in fear for his life following disputes with rival financiers. He is named in a report by private investigators probing the background of Vladimir Antonov – a former business associate, current ally and fellow exile – who was attempting to buy into the Swedish car maker Saab in 2009.

The report was compiled after Mr Antonov's father, Alexander, was shot five times on a Moscow street in 2009 but survived. Vladimir Antonov told investigators he believed Mr Gorbuntsov and another entrepreneur had sought to have his father killed by Chechen hitmen after he refused to sell his business to them at a low price. Mr Antonov understood they were acting on behalf of the right-hand man of pro-Kremlin Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Mr Antonov also accused Mr Gorbuntsov of trying to blacken his family's name over the killing of a Moldovan businessman in 2008, according to the report. Mr Antonov, who lives in west London, faces his own legal woes, with the Lithuanian government seeking his extradition over alleged asset stripping of a bank he owned. He is due to appear in a London court next month after contesting the extradition.

The two men were later reconciled after the shooting of Alexander Antonov. Mr Gorbuntsov had been due to give evidence to Russian investigators probing the shooting. He blames this decision for the attack on him at his apartment in Canary Wharf, east London.

Scotland Yard is understood to be investigating Mr Gorbuntsov's business dealings and is keeping an open mind as to why he was attacked and who was responsible.

Ballistic tests are continuing to try to identify whether the gun used was secured in Britain or brought in from outside the country by would-be assassins who may have subsequently fled abroad.

"Any murder investigation is complex," said Detective Chief Inspector Russell Taylor, who is heading the investigation. "This is maybe slightly added to because of the geography involved." He said inquiries were continuing in the UK which may influence whether or not detectives need to go to Russia. Officers are seeking authority to travel, but that had not yet been secured, he said.

The attempted killing in London appeared to be a throwback to the 1990s, according to observers, when gun attacks were rife in Russian cities to settle business disputes in the gangster capitalism of post-Soviet rule. The new elite prefer to play out their disputes in the courts.