Police raid company of Russia's richest woman

17th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Crack forces raided the office of Russia's richest woman on Thursday in a probe linked to an emergency loan she took from a bank founded by the deposed mayor of Moscow -- who is also her husband.

Yelena Baturina called the police sweep a political provocation that had nothing to do with the loan her Inteko construction company took from the Bank of Moscow.

"I know for certain that these searches have no relation to either our company or the Bank of Moscow," Interfax quoted Baturina as saying.

"This is simply an ordered (raid) and a form of (political) pressure," she added.

Investigators said the raid was linked to a loan taken by Inteko in 2009 as her company's finances suffered from the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

"The searches are being conducted within the frameworks of a criminal investigation into the embezzlement of 13 billion rubles from the Bank of Moscow," an interior ministry spokeswoman told Interfax.

The probe into the disputed loan was launched only weeks after the dramatic departure of Yury Luzhkov from his mayoral seat over the same allegations.

The Kremlin accused the mayor of corruption and investigators launched an inquiry into a 12.76 billion ruble (435 million dollar) loan the bank issued to a little known firm in 2009 that was allegedly nothing more than a shell company.

Various media reports said the small firm then went on to purchase a plot of land at what investigators believe was an inflated price from Baturina's debt-ridden Inteko company.

Inteko then allegedly used the proceeds to pay off a large chunk of its maturing debts and stay solvent.

The Vedomosti business daily said the company that acted as the intermediary in the transaction was partially owned by Bank of Moscow executives and had been set up only three months prior to the disputed land deal.

The Financial Times reported that the transaction took place on the same day as the Moscow city parliament approved a 15-billion-ruble transfer to the Bank of Moscow.

It said Russia's interior ministry was checking whether the funds were transferred to Baturina to help her settle her debts.

Investigators confirmed that their inquiry was focusing on the role Russia's richest woman played in the transaction.

"If there are reasons to believe that Baturina knows something, we will invite Baturina" for questioning, interior ministry investigator Alexei Naichin told ITAR-TASS news agency.

Baturina's $1.1 billion fortune is widely believed to have come from the real estate contracts that Inteko was awarded by the city without tenders and at inflated prices.

A series of national television specials aired these allegation in the weeks preceding Luzhkov's ouster as the once-powerful mayor bitterly fought off the Kremlin's efforts to re-establish its control over Russia's richest city.

Thursday's police raid came two days after the supervisory board of Russia's second-largest lender VTB approved the gradual acquisition of the Moscow bank.

The Bank of Moscow has previously argued that the charges against it may be a part of the state-held bank's attempt to lower its purchase price.

© 2011 AFP

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