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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gryzlov Airs Two Money Laundering Probes

APInterior Minister Boris Gryzlov
The fight against money laundering has been brought to new heights in Russia after investigations against two suspected medium-sized banks were made public by Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov. The cases will soon be brought to court, he said.

Gryzlov appeared on two nationwide television channels Monday evening -- Channel One and RTR -- to tell the country that Sodbiznesbank and Eurotrust are the focus of two money laundering investigations. Neither case, however, is new; both investigations have been underway for more than a year.

Citing the findings of the Financial Monitoring Committee, a government watchdog group in charge of chasing dirty money, Gryzlov said that four senior officials from Sodbiznesbank were involved in illegal transactions involving 500 million rubles ($16.1 million) while three employees at Eurotrust were under investigation for "legalizing criminally obtained income" to the tune of $258 million.

Sodbiznesbank chairman Roman Petrov, however, downplayed Gryzlov's announcement Tuesday, saying that the committee had no objections to the bank's current management team, installed last year.

Instead, "the law enforcement agencies' charges are related to the former bank's chairman, Igor Zakharov," he was quoted by Interfax as saying. "The charges are against him, and are not in anyway related to Sodbiznesbank in its current form," he said.

Eurotrust responded to Gryzlov's remarks by posting a vague statement on its web site, which said the investigation targets the alleged evasion of the 1 percent tax on currency sales. The tax was officially repealed as of Jan. 1, 2003.

Officials at Eurotrust refused to confirm or deny the $258 million figure cited by Gryzlov as the total volume of bank transactions in question.

Eurotrust representatives, together with a number of banking analysts contacted Tuesday, found it hard to explain Gryzlov's emphasis on these two particular banks.

"I think the question is not about who got caught, but who didn't," one banking analyst said on condition of anonymity.

Natalya Orlova, a banking analyst at Alfa Bank, said Gryzlov was likely making an example of the two banks. "The message was delivered to others in order to make them behave appropriately," she said.

Sodbiznesbank and Eurotrust are medium-sized, ranking 87 and 89, respectively, among the country's top banks, according to Interfax's Center for Economic Analysis. Sodbiznesbank appears to have interests and clients in the insurance business, while Eurotrust works with aerospace and real estate.

Both banks have had their names in headlines describing various suspicious activities over the past few months.

Last summer, several top Sodbiznesbank executives were detained in connection with the investigation into the kidnapping of KamAZ-Metallurgiya general director Viktor Faber, who was later found dead.

Eurotrust made the papers last year when Chinese authorities closed its Beijing branch for operating without their permission.