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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bankers Blast Clampdown on Accounts

Russian bankers harshly criticized stringent new state restrictions on bank accounts and money transfers Tuesday, calling them "a rollback away from market principles" that would stifle the banking industry, hamper trade and handicap Russian business.

Tax officials, however, said the restrictions, outlined in a joint order from the Finance Ministry, the State Tax Service and the Central Bank, were needed to combat tax evasion and money laundering.

Under the order, which took effect in September and was designed to implement a May presidential tax decree:

?Companies may not hold more than one liquid bank account per currency and must close all "extra" accounts by Nov. 1;

?Banks must report to tax authorities all ruble or hard-currency transfers worth $10,000 or more by companies or private individuals;

?Banks must give tax authorities advance warning before opening any new hard-currency, savings, or other account.

"Since we are in a transitional period, this is necessary to fight irresponsible banking activities," said Sergei Postukhov, who oversees taxation of banks at the State Tax Service.

But leaders of the Association of Russian Banks, which represents a third of the country's commercial banks, described the order as the work of central planners eager to keep control.

"Two or three more steps like this and our country is not going to look like a state moving down the path to a civilized market," Valery Vinogradov, president of Inkombank, said.

He said the limits on multiple bank accounts sprang from "the nostalgia of bureaucrats" for Soviet times, when enterprises could have only one ruble account in an assigned state bank and one hard-currency account in the Soviet foreign trade bank.

Postukhov said the rule was indeed a Soviet Central Bank regulation that was never overturned but fell into disuse.

"Did that help the economy before?" asked Sergei Yegorov, head of the association, who headed Soviet Russia's state bank. "Sure it helped it -- to fall into the abyss."

Yegorov said that forcing businesses to handle all their cash flow in a given currency with a single bank left them with "all their eggs in one basket."

He also said the order would create a bureaucratic nightmare because firms often use several different bank accounts for different import-export contracts, each licensed separately. Licenses would have to be reissued if all accounts were consolidated, he said.

Yegorov said many small banks were already "on the border of bankruptcy" because businesses had closed "extra" accounts to comply with the Nov. 1 deadline.

Vinogradov said in an interview that Inkombank had lost 60 clients due to the regulations. But he added that the regulation was "emasculated" in the provinces, where businesses and tax inspectors have agreed to ignore it.

Yegorov said the rule on reporting bank transfers could expose clients to racketeers through information leaks. He said it also violated a constitutional right to financial privacy and made banks into "secret agents" and "informers."

Vinogradov said that Inkombank and Stolichny Bank have so far refused to turn over information on bank transfers.