Second Russian bank chief killed: Financial sector offers tempting target for crime syndicates

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The Independent Online
A PROMINENT St Petersburg banker has been murdered, the second time in six months that a senior figure in Russia's chaotic and, according to the police, crime-ridden banking sector has died violently.

The latest victim was Boris Semonovich Yakubovich, St Petersburg manager for Inkombank, one of Russia's fastest growing commercial banks. He was killed as he left for work on Monday.

Banks occupy the wilder fringes of Russia's 'wild capitalism', with more than 1,300 institutions fighting for business in the lucrative but largely unsupervised market for money. They range from mammoth Soviet-era relics such as the Savings Bank, which has 42,600 branches, to upstarts with little more than a nameplate on the door.

Fraud is endemic, infecting both commercial banks and the Central Bank of Russia. One flourishing activity is the counterfeiting of bank notes and securities. The number of counterfeiting cases reported in the past five months, officials said yesterday, exceeded that for the previous five years.

Police think banking has become a target for Russia's crime syndicates, attracted by the prospects of quick profits and money-laundering. 'Many of our banks are controlled by criminal gangs,' Gennady Chebotarev, head of the Russian Interior Ministry's organised crime unit, said. 'When there are problems they often end up using guns to solve them.'

Inkombank has 18 branches, is regarded as relatively solid and is well known because of an aggressive advertising campaign. Accounts of how its manager in St Petersburg died differ sharply. According to 600 Seconds, a St Petersburg television programme known for its far- right views and excellent police contacts, he was shot dead in broad daylight near his flat outside the city.

This would mirror an earlier murder in Moscow, where the vice-chairman of Tekhkombank, Vladimir Rovensky, was gunned down on his doorstep by what police say was probably a professional hitman. Contract killings have become a common business tool and are rarely solved. Prices vary depending on who the victim is but, according to police, can be as low as 100,000 roubles ( pounds 63).

Inkombank head office in Moscow played down any parallels with the earlier murder. Its security manager, Mikhail Gorbunov, said the St Petersburg manager had been beaten to death after stumbling upon a band of thieves in his apartment building. The body was found by a bank driver and had no bullet wounds, he said. 'We believe it had nothing to do with the banking business.'

But, he added, concern about violent crime recently prompted the bank to apply for gun licences so that senior staff could be armed. Many of Russia's private bankers have their own bodyguards.

Serious crime has risen dramatically in Russia, increasing by 36 per cent nationwide last year and by nearly 50 per cent in Moscow during the first quarter of 1993.

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