Russneft-Linked Bank for Sale

Binbank, a top-30 bank linked to embattled oil firm Russneft, said Monday that it was in talks with an undisclosed number of investors -- including a member of the Federation Council -- to sell a controlling stake.

"We are indeed reviewing a range of offers for the sale of a controlling stake or more of the bank," said Mikhail Shishkhanov, the bank's president and owner of 87 percent of its shares.

In a statement, Binbank said one of the investors was Vadim Moshkovich, a member of the Federation Council.

The bank made the statement in response to media reports that Moshkovich, who founded agricultural firm Rusagro, had already bought the bank.

"I am still the president of the bank and still the owner of most of its shares," Shishkhanov said in the statement.

Shishkhanov is the nephew of self-exiled billionaire Mikhail Gutseriyev, the founder of Binbank and former head of mid-sized oil company Russneft.

Russneft's assets were frozen in August in a tax probe.

Gutseriyev, who has a warrant out for his arrest, fled the country after claiming that he was the victim of "unprecedented bullying" from the state, a comment he later retracted. His whereabouts are unknown.

Binbank's connection to Gutseriyev prompted media speculation that the bank's sale was part of the legal onslaught against Russneft, which a Kremlin-friendly magnate, Oleg Deripaska, is seeking to buy.

But the bank played down these assumptions.

"In choosing a buyer or buyers, we will be guided above all by the ability and willingness of the new owners to preserve the course of the bank's development," Shishkhanov said.

The bank said its capital stood at 6.85 billion rubles ($282.4 million) as of Nov. 1, 2007, and analysts have placed the bank's value at up to $1 billion.