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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Desperate Depositor Said He'd Burn Self If Not Paid




As Russians continue to mob banks in an attempt to recover their savings, some depositors are resorting to desperate measures.


Retired army Captain Yury Bystrov marched into a St. Petersburg branch of SBS-Agro Bank on Monday, barricaded himself in an office and threatened to set himself alight unless the bank allowed him to withdraw his $14,300 in savings, police said Wednesday.


A local prosecutor said bank staff gave Bystrov his cash, but SBS-Agro, worried that news of the incident might encourage its thousands of angry investors to follow Bystrov's example, denied they had given in to his demands.


"We don't want to feed these sort of attitudes," said Inna Malinovskaya, spokeswoman for the northwestern division of SBS-Agro. "This city has revolutionary traditions. I already see crowds on the streets, near stores, crazy people everywhere. News coverage is fueling it, and the match is ready."


Bystrov, 49, had been coming to the bank every day, and sometimes even twice a day, asking to withdraw cash. But in the three weeks since the banking crisis hit, he had been allowed to take out only $700, police said.


On Monday, Bystrov came to the bank with small backpack smelling of gasoline and after a quarrel with clerks was escorted into the back office, the manager of the branch, Alevtina Yakovleva, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


Once there, he quickly hung a sign on the window which read: "SBS-Agro is to blame for me burning myself to death." He then pulled out small plastic bags filled with liquid, attached them to his clothes and demanded his money, Yakovleva said.


It was discovered later that Bystrov was not carrying any flammable substance and that the canister and plastic bags contained water.


The manger called security guards and police, but Bystrov ran into an adjacent office where he barricaded himself in with a desk.


"I could see through a partly open door how he stood there with a canister he had tied to himself with some string, with a lighter and a razor screaming he would set himself ablaze," said Viktor Voytik, deputy district police chief who was one of those called to the scene to negotiate with Bystrov.


After a six-hour standoff, with officers from the Federal Security Service and two fire trucks standing by, Bystrov gave himself up and was taken to the police precinct. District prosecutor Alexander Konovalov said Bystrov dropped his threat to torch himself when bank officials handed over the money he was demanding.


"I understand that the money was collected from different banks," said Konovalov. "It was a joint decision by the bank officials and police." The prosecutor added that the money may have been taken off Bystrov after he had given himself up.


However, contacted Wednesday, the bank vehemently denied handing over the cash at all. "The bank did not give him any money," Malinovskaya said.


Bystrov was released Tuesday after a brief court appearance. Prosecutors are currently looking into whether to charge him. He could face a charge of breaching public order, which carries a fine of up to 1,660 rubles [$105 at Thursday's official exchange rate].


"I personally think it's closer to a terrorist act," Konovalov said. If Bystrov is convicted of terrorism, he faces a prison sentence of between five and 10 years.