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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Expert: Banks Riddled With Mafia

MOSCOW -- Many of Russia's 2,048 banks are linked to the country's mafia and enjoy support from organized crime groups in Europe, central bank and interior ministry officials told a joint news conference on Wednesday.

"A big proportion of our banks are linked to mafia and criminal gangs. What percentage? I cannot say," Alexei Belov, deputy head of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigation department, said."The Italian mafia is like a kindergarten compared to our Russian mafia."

Vladimir Smirnov, deputy head of currency control at the Central Bank, said former convicts and petty criminals held key positions at Russian banks.

"We know that some banks employ former convicts and criminals who have spent time in jail. But it is not up to the Central Bank to deal with this," he said.

Under Soviet law, "economic crimes" were punishable with jail sentences. They included most of what capitalist Russia, like the West, now regards as legitimate ways of making money.

Belov shrugged when asked what he was doing to fightthe banking mafia.

"Excuse me, but compared to other state employees and servicemen, policemen are the worst paid."

In 1993, police registered 27 attacks on Russian banks. Only four were solved. Belov said a third of attacks went unreported. He said bank robbers stole about $1 million over the past year.

Interior Ministry officials say three-quarters of private enterprises in Russia are forced to pay 10-20 percent of their earnings for protection. They say 150 gangs control some 40,000 firms.

The Interior Ministry says 94 people described as entrepreneurs -- including businessmen and at least 10 bankers -- were murdered by the mafia in 1993.

With no regulation, Russia's banks have become a breeding ground for mobsters discovering white-collar crime.

"Many of our banks are not proper banks," said the Central Bank's Smirnov.

Smirnov did not expect the state to force banks shut, though. "If banks do not comply with minimum capital requirements, we cannot close them down. We do not want to be too drastic."