Proxy Banks Prove Big 7 To Be Myth

Last week marked an extremely important event in the financial life of Russia's leading businesses. Most newspapers reported on how the government commission on monetary and credit policies decided for the first time to take a systemic approach to such a sensitive question as the work of banks acting as state proxies, which are authorized to operate with government budgetary funds.

In the banking community, getting on this exclusive list of proxy banks is seen as being counted among the country's most prosperous banks. In practice, however, being among the banks that are entrusted to work with state money is no guarantee that the bank is trustworthy.

Natsionalny Kredit Bank, for example, which had for a long time been charged with handling budgetary funds, recently had its license revoked. A more recent example is Tveruniversalbank, whose status as a proxy did not save it from going bankrupt. Even such a veteran on the list as Kredo-Bank collapsed. This bank looked after the State Customs Committee's budget, which ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

But however loud the scandals have been over the failures of such banks, this has not lessened the attractiveness of being on the list of proxies. This is because almost all banks that are now at the top of this list more or less owe their position to the fact that they were able to get commissions to operate with government funds.

All this leads us to another popular theme -- the existence of a financial oligarchy in Russia and the political power of a small group of bankers, which people call semibankirshchina, or the rule of seven bankers.

Let's take the list of the 13 "superagents" acting on behalf of the government. The government entrusts them with such operations as regulating the problems of Russia's foreign debt, floating and servicing Eurobonds, servicing the credits of international financial organizations and others. The banks on the list are: Sberbank; Vneshtorgbank; Uneximbank; Inkombank; Natsionalny Rezervny Bank; Mezhdunarodnaya Finansovaya Kompaniya; Avtobank, Imperial; Mezhdunarodny Moskovsky Bank; Rossiisky Kredit; Solichny Bank Sberezheny and Mosbiznesbank.

Absent from this list of 13 superagents are MOST-Bank, Alpha-Bank and banks associated with the Logovaz group, despite the fact that both Vladimir Gusinsky from MOST and Boris Berezovsky from Logovaz are part of the Interfax-AiF list of the "magic seven" most influential businessmen.

On the other hand, the list incudes Vneshtorgbank and Sberbank, whose presidents are practically civil servants and have no political pretensions. The inclusion of Moskovsky Mezhdunarodny Bank, most of whose capital is foreign, is also curious. It is presided over by the former head of the Central Bank, Viktor Gerashchenko, who also has no political aspirations.

In other words, the government's choice of banks confirms once again that the rumors about the influence of financial groups in the Kremlin are greatly exaggerated. For the time being, banks depend far more on officials than the other way around.

Mikhail Berger is economics editor of Izvestia.