Inkombank's Vinogradov Dead at 52

MTVladimir Vinogradov speaking to reporters on Aug. 18, 1998, a day after the default sparked the financial crisis.
Vladimir Vinogradov, founder of Inkombank and one of seven influential bankers who enjoyed direct access to then-President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s, died of a stroke in a Moscow hospital Sunday at the age of 52.

For many who lived through the 1998 financial crisis, Inkombank, one of Russia's largest private lenders, became synonymous with deception. The company, which had the second-most clients in Russia after state-owned Sberbank, left thousands of individuals out in the cold, paying meager compensation for deposits lost in the crash.

But before the bank's collapse, Vinogradov, a native of Ufa and a graduate of the Moscow Aviation Institute, created a financial empire using Western blueprints for classical banking, in which the bank focused on expanding the number of small clients instead of getting cheap money from the government, as most other big banks did.

"This, by the way, showed during the 1998 default because regular people are the most fluid and nervous group of clients," Vinogradov said in his last interview, in 2005, to banking magazine Natsionalny Bankovsky Zhurnal. "We tried not to pay attention to the Russian realities in the hope that eventually our position would be understood and adopted by other banks."

Created in 1990, Inkombank had 140 branches across Russia by 1998 and had accumulated the third-biggest total assets after Sberbank and SBS-Agro, which also crashed in 1998. Some 350,000 individuals and 10,000 companies had accounts at Inkombank at the time. The bank also amassed one of the finest collections of Russian art, including Kazimir Malevich's "Black Square," all of which was eventually sold off to cover debts.

But before becoming one of Russia's biggest bankers, Vinogradov worked for six years as an engineer at the Atommash plant in the southern town of Volgodonsk. He became head of the plant's branch of the Young Communist League, and in 1985 he moved to Moscow, where he established the first housing cooperative for young families.

Vinogradov has been described by financiers who knew him as an overly self-confident leader who would force his opinion on others and, when angry, was capable of throwing heavy items from his desk at subordinates.

He also had a strong independent streak, becoming the only influential financial magnate of the 1990s to protest the loans-for-shares auctions, in which lucrative state assets were sold off to Vinogradov's peers for a fraction of their market values. It was this criticism, Vinogradov later said, that made his bank the first to lose its license after the default, and it was the reason why the government refused to support it — even as the state bailed out other major banks with billions of rubles in loans.

"I was like an independent cowboy from a joke, who was of no interest to anyone," he said in the 2005 interview.

Vinogradov had a kidney transplant in Spain last year, and he had previously suffered a heart attack and two strokes, said Galina Polozhevets, a journalist with Rodina magazine who regularly met with Vinogradov and wrote about him. In poor health, Vinogradov had recently kept a low profile, although he remained affluent, with Finans magazine putting his wealth at 1 billion rubles ($43 million) in 2005.

Vinogradov is survived by his wife and three children. His funeral will be held at the Vagankovskoye Cemetery church at 11 a.m. Tuesday.