Frenkel Airs Theory About Hit on Kozlov

Alexei Frenkel, the banker on trial for the murder of Central Bank first deputy chairman Andrei Kozlov, said Thursday that another deputy chairman, Viktor Melnikov, could be behind the killing.

During a hearing at the Moscow City Court, Frenkel said he had reached the conclusion that Melnikov was the "most probable" person to have ordered the killing of Kozlov after poring over the case materials, Frenkel's lawyer Ruslan Koblev said, Interfax reported.

The Central Bank declined to comment on the allegation Thursday.

Frenkel, former head of the now-defunct VIP Bank, is on trial with six others in the murder of Kozlov, who was shot, along with his driver, in a contract-style killing in September 2006.

Kozlov, whose murder sent shockwaves through the financial community, had led a campaign against money laundering and stripped hundreds of banks and credit organizations of their licenses.

The Central Bank's actions prompted complaints from some State Duma deputies in February 2007, who claimed that the regulatory body had, in some cases, revoked licenses without just cause and urged that its powers be withdrawn. The request was formally reviewed, but later dropped.

Investigators said Frenkel, who co-founded Sodbiznesbank, another bank that had its license revoked by Kozlov, as well as VIP-Bank, lost billions of rubles as a result of Kozlov's actions.

Frenkel, who was arrested in February 2007 and is the prime suspect in the case, has pleaded not guilty.

Last week, Central Bank head Sergei Ignatyev told the court that Kozlov had received an anonymous warning several months before his death. The warning said a number of banks, including VIP-Bank, were angry about Kozlov's actions to strip them of their licenses.

At the time of his arrest in February 2007, Frenkel blamed intrigue among Central Bank officials for Kozlov's murder, alleging in an open letter that central bankers had illegally lobbied for the interests of four banking groups. He named Melnikov and Mikhail Sukhov, a Central Bank board member, as being involved.

Koblev, Frenkel's lawyer, said Thursday that Kozlov revoked the licenses of about 300 credit organizations between 2005 and 2006, "among which were very large banks, which could not conduct their activities without support."

"In Frenkel's opinion, Melnikov not only controlled one of these banks, but also viewed Kozlov as a rival ... for this role," Koblev said.

Melnikov, who was also in court Thursday, said under questioning that he had noticed Kozlov appeared dejected in the days before his death. Melnikov said he had asked Kozlov what was wrong and Kozlov replied, "I'm just tired of all this muckraking."

Melnikov also recalled talking to Kozlov about a meeting with Frenkel, after which Kozlov told Melnikov that he was sure Frenkel and other managers were "knowingly" involved in dishonest operations at VIP-Bank.