Russian banker 'knew his would-be killer'

Scotland Yard issues description of man with sub-machine gun responsible for shooting in a London street

Jonathan Owen,Shaun Walker
Sunday 25 March 2012 02:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Scotland Yard issued a description yesterday of the gunman who shot a wealthy Russian banker in London last week. German Gorbuntsov remains under armed guard today at a hospital in London, where he is in a coma. His condition was described as "critical but stable".

Mr Gorbuntsov has a controversial past, with allegations of involvement in an illegal bank takeover and embezzlement in Moldova, as well as being a possible witness to a murder attempt on a rival in 2009.

The 45-year-old, who has lived in self-imposed exile in London since 2010, was shot half a dozen times in the entrance to the complex where he lives in Byng Street, near Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs.

Police said the suspect, who was white, 6ft and slim and was wearing a dark hoody, was seen running away from Westferry Road after the shooting last Tuesday evening.

The man, who is understood to have used a sub-machine gun, was known to the banker, according to his neighbour. The 54-year-old management consultant, who would only give his first name, John, claimed police had informed him "that the attacker was known to the person who'd been attacked".

Police refused to comment on speculation in the Russian media that the attack could have been a professional contract killing linked to a murder attempt on one of Mr Gorbuntsov's business rivals, the banker Alexander Antonov, in Moscow in 2009.

Scotland Yard's Trident command, which investigates gang shootings, has ruled out local gangs and is understood to have liaised with overseas counterparts. In a statement yesterday, a police spokesman said: "The shooting is not thought to be gang-related or linked to any other incidents in Tower Hamlets. Officers retain an open mind regarding the motive for the attack at this time."

Mr Gorbuntsov had gained controlling interests in a number of security companies in the 1990s, and then moved into banking, owning banks in Russia and Moldova. His relatives say that just a handful of his closest confidantes knew that he had been based in Britain since 2010. It is reported that Mr Gorbuntsov is on Moldova's wanted list over allegations of involvement in an illegal bank takeover and embezzlement. Yet it appears he was more fearful of former business partners in Russia. His lawyer in Moldova, Valery Andronik, claimed last week that his client told him repeatedly: "If I go back to Russia, they will kill me."

The Russian banker is said to have told another of his lawyers that he had noticed that he was being followed in London, but did not believe that his enemies would dare to mount an attack in the British capital. The businessman had been due to give evidence to Russian officials over the assassination attempt on Mr Antonov, in 2009. According to Russian sources, the two men were embroiled in a dispute over a $100m (£63m) debt. Mr Antonov was shot five times but survived. Three men were jailed over the attack but the person who ordered it has never been identified.

According to Russian media, the case was reopened earlier this month when Mr Gorbuntsov informed the Russian authorities that he had information about those responsible for the assassination attempt and was willing to talk. A team from Russia's Investigative Committee was due to travel to London and interview him later this month.

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