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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Top Banks Join Forces In 'Cartel'

Three of Russia's leading commercial banks -- Stolichny, Natsionalny Kredit and Imperial -- have joined forces in what a major Moscow daily called "the beginning of an age of cartel agreements" in the country's banking industry.

Imperial spokesman Nikolai Kolchev confirmed Tuesday's report in the Segodnya newspaper, saying that the agreement, signed Friday, would combine the strengths of the member banks and allow them to strongly influence Russia's financial markets. Representatives of the other two banks refused to comment.

Kolchev denied an assertion in the Segodnya report that the agreement violated Russian antitrust law.

"It is impossible to find in the agreement even one article which could be considered illegal," he said.

The move comes at a time when Russia's estimated 2,500 commercial banks are entering a difficult stage that experts say will bring a rash of mergers and acquisitions.

Under the agreement, the three banks will end competition and coordinate their commercial and political activities, Segodnya said. Kolchev said the banks had also agreed to set up a joint security system against fraud and criminal attacks, and "to control the information and advertising markets."

"According to the agreement we will take joint action against those representatives of the mass media who give false information on the banks," he said.

In the commercial sphere, the three banks -- which have joint assets worth 10 trillion rubles ($3.2 billion) -- will coordinate issues of new equity, cooperate on investment projects and pursue a joint commercial policy abroad, Segodnya reported.

The newspaper said that the banks had widely divergent political affiliations. It said that Natsionalny Kredit was closely connected with the Democratic Party of Russia, Imperial with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Stolichny with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.