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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tibet Closes Offices, Directors Vanish

Hundreds of angry investors gathered Monday outside the headquarters of the investment firm Tibet after the company closed its offices and its directors vanished.


"Tibet has left me absolutely without means for survival," said Galina Senutina, an unemployed quality controller from the Far East, who invested her entire family savings of 5 million rubles ($2,300) in the company.


Tibet stopped paying dividends and its directors disappeared Thursday, leaving the company's estimated 600,000 clients trying to figure out what had happened to their money, said Vladimir Voronin, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Tibet Investors.


The closure of Tibet is the third major financial upheaval to hit Russia in the past month. Four weeks ago the investment company MMM ceased trading after the value of its shares collapsed and its president, Sergei Mavrodi, was arrested. The company has since resumed operations.


Two weeks ago, the Russian House of Selenga closed its doors, saying that it would resume trading when it had received a banking license. Almost $10 million has since been confiscated from the company by the tax police.


A series of draft regulations and legislation to rein in Russia's chaotic financial markets is currently in the works, aimed at controlling the emission and trading of securities.


Tibet investors were offered a monthly interest rate of 30 percent in a high-profile television campaign, which promised "profits as high as mountain peaks" and "intentions as pure as mountain air."


But Natalya Khomenko, a spokeswoman for the Central Bank, said that while Tibet had been operating as a bank, it had never obtained a banking license despite numerous appeals from the Central Bank to do so.


"Since they don't have a license, we can't do anything about it," she said. The Central Bank last week released a list of 21 companies -- published in several national newspapers -- that it said were accepting deposits without a banking license. Tibet was included on the list along with the Russian House of Selenga.


Khomenko said that while Tibet had applied for a banking license in July, it would take the Central Bank "not less than three months" to process the application. Tibet had been operating since May 1993, according to Voronin of the investors' committee.


Voronin, who arrived at Tibet's offices in a militia car with two bodyguards accompanying him, said the investors' committee had reported five senior Tibet officials as missing persons to the militia and Interpol.


Despite the seemingly fly-by-night character of Tibet's operation, none of the investors interviewed Monday said they thought they had been running a great risk in trusting their money to the company.


"You risk if you invest money into a sberkassa, too," said Natalya Chetvertakova, 59, referring to Sberbank, the Soviet Union's only savings bank.


Chetvertakova said she invested 300,000 rubles in Tibet seven months ago and had since received six dividends of 79,200 rubles.


"I lived however I liked, while I was receiving my dividends," Chetvertakova said. "I could even afford bananas."