Ingosstrakh Notes Skyrocketing Fraud

Insurance fraud hit a high in the first quarter as a growing number of individuals felt compelled to take criminal measures to avoid paying off loans, Alexander Grigoryev, chairman of insurer Ingosstrakh, told journalists on Wednesday.

Grigoryev said arson property-loss claims are up fivefold this year and estimated that 80 percent of them are fraudulent.

"If we used to receive claims for one burned-down warehouse, now we are receiving five," he said.

In almost all instances of fraud, the insured property was bought on credit, and the borrower likely couldn't handle the payments, Grigoryev said.

A devalued ruble, climbing unemployment and salary cuts have caused loan-default rates to mushroom in the first quarter. The country's top banks are forecasting a second wave of banking defaults, as overdue loans are expected to constitute 10 percent of banks' portfolios by the end of the year.

"If a guy has a car that's three years old and he has a car loan in dollars, well, if the car 'burns up' it's an insured accident. The insurer pays the bank for the remainder of the loan and the owner is off scot-free," Grigoryev said. "Later, he can apply for another loan because his credit history is unscratched."

And it's not only cars going up in flames this year.

"Most interesting," he said, was the spike in arson claims for insured freight and other retail goods.

"There was a refrigerating unit that stored frozen meat products. It burned up, burned to the ground," Grigoryev said, adding that the refrigerating unit was set to minus 18 degrees Celsius.

"Tell me, how can a freezer set at this temperature just burn up on its own? It can't. It's impossible, there isn't enough oxygen for anything to burn, but somehow it did."

Grigoryev also said Ingosstrakh should be valued at $4 billion to $5 billion if its majority shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, were to consider selling his stake in the company.

He dismissed comments by the director of Generali, an Italian firm that owns 38 percent of Ingosstrakh, who said the company would pay 300 million euros ($388.4 million) if it decided that it wanted a controlling interest.

"This is a ridiculous figure ... and it does not reflect reality," Grigoryev said.

"[Generali] needs to understand how to go about negotiations with a serious majority shareholder and understand the real value of the company."

In a recent interview, Pyotr Aven, the head of Russia's largest private lender Alfa Bank, said the bank is ready to restructure Deripaska's $800 million of debt if the businessman puts up his stake in Ingosstrakh as collateral.