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The $1.2 billion fraud alleged at Russia’s largest bank

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Tucked away on page 4 of the Moscow Times today there is a remarkable article which made me wonder whether I wasn’t hallucinating.

The report states matter-of-factly that several branch managers are being investigated for defrauding $1.2 billion from Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. That’s according to comments made by Sberbank’s regional manager for Moscow. The Moscow Times translated the article from Thursday’s edition of the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, where it appears on page 7.

According to this article, Sberbank suspects managers at three Moscow branches of doling out “thieving” loans, on the basis of “fictitious” documents, to “dubious” companies. The scale of the resulting losses at these three branches? “More than 35 billion roubles” ($1.2 billion).

When you include similar goings-on at other branches, the total figure for Sberbank’s “dubious” loans appears to be even higher still: 46.1 billion roubles, or some $1.6 billion. That it is more than double Sberbank’s total profits for last year.

Russia’s shocking corruption belies Medvedev’s tough rhetoric

Everyone knows that Russia is corrupt, but did you know just how corrupt? The short answer is: more than any other country. That, at least, is the conclusion of a survey just published by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which examines the level of economic crime around the world.

 

PwC canvassed more than 3,000 companies in 55 countries, 89 of them in Russia. It asked them if they had been the victim of frauds such as embezzlement, bribery and crooked accounting. Russia topped the list, with 71% of respondents reporting at least one instance of fraud during the previous twelve months.

Death of lawyer raises new questions in Russian scandal

You might think that the scandal involving Hermitage Capital in Russia couldn’t get any more perturbing. If you have been following the case, you’ll be aware that the British investment fund, managed by American-born financier William Browder, has repeatedly accused Russian criminals and corrupt officials of stealing $230 million in funds from the Russian budget.

 

Now there are more serious questions for the Russian authorities. Today the Russian Interior Ministry revealed that Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer acting for Hermitage who was arrested a year ago, has died in prison at the age of 37. They say that he died from “toxic shock and a heart attack”.

Russia’s long political calm is coming to an end

Something quite extraordinary is happening in Russia. Slowly but surely, the monolithic political system that has held together in Russia for most of the past decade is coming apart

Today, in an unprecedented step, deputies from all three of the opposition parties in the Russian parliament staged a walk-out, demanding a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. They are protesting against the results of local elections that were held in various parts of Russia on 11 October. Not for the first time, the pro-government United Russia party largely swept the board, amid widespread allegations by the opposition of vote-rigging.
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A new twist in a Russian scandal

The Russian Interior Ministry is about to seek the arrest of William Browder, the chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management, for illegally evading taxes. That’s according to a front-page article in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a leading political-economic daily.

Browder, a British and US citizen who resides in London, has been denied entry into Russia ever since 2005, when his visa was annulled for obscure reasons. His Hermitage Fund, managed by the British bank HSBC, was once the largest portfolio investor in Russia, but has more recently been embroiled in a series of interconnected scandals.

Third person spells trouble in politicians

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nixonOUKTP-UK-ITALY-BERLUSCONIBeware of politicians who speak about themselves in the third person. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are paranoid. But it is usually an indicator of some kind of trouble.

More than a decade before he was forced out of the White House for lying, destroying evidence, bugging his political opponents and covering up a crime in the Watergate affair, Richard Nixon (right) famously told journalists at what he said was his last press conference: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

West raises stakes over Iran nuclear programme

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big-3President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain have deliberately raised the stakes in the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme by dramatising the disclosure that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant. Their shoulder-to-shoulder statements of resolve, less than a week before Iran opens talks with six major powers in Geneva, raised more questions than they answer.

It turns out that the United States has known for a long time (how long?) that Iran had been building the still incomplete plant near Qom. Did it share that intelligence with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, and if not, why not? Why did it wait until now, in the middle of a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, to make the announcement — after Iran had notified the International Atomic Energy Authority of the plant’s existence on Monday, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had delivered a defiant speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday and after the Security Council had adopted a unanimous resolution calling for an end to the spread of nuclear weapons on Thursday?

Why Russia needs America

In the wake of President Obama’s decision to scrap the U.S. missile defence shield in eastern Europe, many are pondering Russia’s response. The relationship will remain in the spotlight this week, when President Medvedev heads to the U.S. for the G20 summit. Although the precise nature of Russia’s reaction remains to be seen, it has a big incentive to improve relations. It badly needs American investment and co-operation to help solve serious economic problems at home.

Critics of Obama’s decision worry that it will “embolden” Russia, causing more aggressive behaviour abroad. Yet they forget that the Bush administration’s antagonistic policies failed to provide security to Russia’s neighbours. These policies didn’t prevent Russia’s war with Georgia, the repeated gas disputes with Ukraine, and a serious cooling of relations with countries such as Poland. Far from being restrained, Russia’s confrontational attitude had a lot to do with its perception that the U.S. was busy encircling the country with missile bases and alliances.

Shelved missile shield tests NATO unity

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foghAfter just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration’s decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other ”rogue state”. But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO’s new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.

Obama playing a weak hand with Iran

The announcement that the major powers, including the United States, are going to open talks with Iran on Oct. 1 ought to be a source of rejoicing. After all, isn’t this what much of the world has been urging for several years, while the European Union conducted a frustrating, low-key dialogue like the warm-up band at a rock concert?

So why is there so little excitement about the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany sitting down at the table for comprehensive talks with the Islamic Republic?

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