Disgraced Russian banker and family die in contract shooting

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The Independent Online

The body of Alexander Slesarev, 37, was found in his bullet-riddled Mercedes along with that of his wife, Natalya, and his daughter, Elizaveta, who was just 15.

His seven year-old niece, who was badly injured in the attack, was rushed to hospital while three men thought to be his bodyguards, who were travelling in a separate jeep, needed serious medical attention.

The murders were carried out professionally.

Police said a powerful Audi A-8 overtook the businessman's convoy on a road about 20 miles outside Moscow and two gunmen began firing as they drew level. The Audi was found burnt out soon afterwards. Inside, police found a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a Makarov pistol.

Mr Slesarev is infamous in Russian banking circles because the two banks he once ran and owned had their licences revoked last year after the Central Bank said one, Sodbiznesbank, had been laundering ransom money, while the other, Credittrust, was accused of "irregularities".

Sodbiznesbank was said to have padded its books with fictitious capital and its demise triggered a mini-banking crisis across the country with Russians rushing to withdraw their life savings in panic.

Sodbiznesbank was found to be riddled with flaws. It failed to provide the authorities with the necessary regulatory information and claimed to have "lost" its database covering an entire year - 2002.

Its collapse meant thousands of depositors were unable to access their money for weeks and lost precious savings when it was finally liquidated. Unsurprisingly Mr Slesarev was not a popular man.

In an attempt to stave off the inevitable Sodbiznesbank blocked access to its central Moscow offices for two weeks after it was ordered to hand back its banking licence during which time it is suspected of having spirited away billions of roubles of assets. It was eventually stormed by riot police.

Little is known about Mr Slesarev who kept a low profile during the crisis. What is known is that the multi-millionaire was one of the biggest cash donors to President Vladimir Putin's re-election campaign last year and that he was politically well connected.

A Muscovite, he embraced Russia's switch to capitalism with relish running a variety of businesses, working as a taxi driver and selling flowers at the market, before he managed to break into the banking sector and become one of its biggest players.

Before his financial empire crumbled his banks were among the few authorised to loan money to the Moscow City government.

Police sources said yesterday they suspected Mr Slesarev's murder could be connected with the Sodbiznesbank fiasco and that he may not have "fulfilled his banking obligations". In other words he may still have owed large amounts of money.

Contract killings remain a popular way of settling scores in Russia, though high-profile murders like this one are far less frequent than they were during the 1990s. Contrary to popular perception, however, experts say there are actually more contract hits today than 10 years ago. Official figures are hard to acquire with experts' estimates of the number of contract hits annually varying from 700 to "a few thousand".

The price of a hit also varies from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand depending on the complexity of the hit and the "credentials" of the killer. Most contract killings are never solved and those that are often see the hitman caught but the zakazchik, the person who ordered the hit, is rarely identified.