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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OMON Raids Nemtsov Bank

Prosecutors accompanied by a squad of masked OMON officers raided Neftyanoi Bank on Thursday and seized reams of documents in a search that lasted more than six hours, said employees at the bank, where Yeltsin-era powerbroker Boris Nemtsov serves as a director.

A spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office said the raid was part of a criminal investigation into suspected money laundering by the bank.

"This is part of a criminal probe into illegal banking operations being conducted through this bank, including the laundering of illegally gained funds," said the spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added that charges could be brought against the bank's directors once documents seized in the raid had been examined.

The raid came a day after Interior Ministry investigators searched MDM Bank, another bank considered close to the group of tycoons and state officials that gained wealth and power under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s known as the Family.

MDM's biggest corporate clients have included oil major Sibneft when it was under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, as well as Abramovich's metals giant Russian Aluminum.

The bank searches fueled speculation that a new Kremlin attack was under way against members of the old Yeltsin elite, and in particular against former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

Kasyanov, a former finance minister under Yeltsin and an ally of Nemtsov, has been the only opposition politician so far to say he will run for the presidency in 2008. Earlier this week, he announced he was going to resuscitate the Democratic Party in an effort to unite the nation's fractious liberal parties.

Nemtsov, a former leader of the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, and a deputy prime minister under Yeltsin, said he supported Kasyanov's initiative.

Nemtsov was appointed a director of the mid-sized Neftyanoi Bank in February 2004 after SPS failed to gain any seats in the December 2003 State Duma elections. The bank had long been reported to be a sponsor of the party, and

its board chairman, Igor Linshits, is considered an ally of UES chief Anatoly Chubais, a former SPS co-leader.

"This appears to be a clear political signal to Kasyanov," said Andrei Piont-kovsky, a leading member of the liberal Yabloko party, which has been in discussions over whether to join forces with Kasyanov and the Democratic Party.

"The fact that Nemtsov is a director of the bank is enough to tie it to SPS and to Kasyanov," he said.

Contacted by telephone in Nizhny Novgorod, Nemtsov did not rule out the possibility that the raid could be political. "We are a loyal bank, and we are ready to cooperate with the investigation," he said. "But when it turns out to be such a show, you tell me what it is."

"Really, it was a maski-show," he said, referring to the shows of force by masked men in uniform in the 1990s against business and political rivals. He said employees had told him that two truckloads of armed officers had turned up at the bank. "Judging by ... the presence of officers with automatic rifles and the leaks from law enforcement agencies ... there is an obvious desire to undermine the bank's reputation," Nemtsov said.

"Such things simply threaten the stability of the banking system," he said.

Other bank employees reached by telephone Thursday, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue, said that masked OMON officers had combed the offices for more than six hours, cutting off Internet connections and some phone lines. Repeated calls to the bank's press secretary, Anna Yartseva, went unanswered Thursday.

When asked whether the raid could be connected to the search at MDM and to Kasyanov, Nemtsov joked: "Well, it's Kasyanov's birthday today, and I am his friend. Maybe it's some sort of a present to me on his birthday."

Kasyanov, who has already been the target of one criminal investigation into his acquisition of a government villa, was the target of an open letter in Moskovsky Komsomolets on Thursday from pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi. The ironic letter congratulated Kasyanov on his birthday, then accused him of kow-towing to the United States and Britain and of gathering immense material wealth.

Kasyanov's spokeswoman, Tatyana Razbash, declined to comment on the letter and on speculation the bank raids could be connected to Kasyanov.

Alfa Bank's chief strategist, Chris Weafer, warned the raids could signal a continuation of the carve-up of political influence and property under President Vladimir Putin that has seen Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Yukos oil empire partially taken over by the state. "There is an uncompleted ambition to regain control of all strategic assets and neuter the people associated with the Yeltsin Family," he said. "These two parts of the Kremlin's plan are still very much alive."

MDM Bank's vice president for communications, Ilya Razbash, who is related to Tatyana Razbash, played down Wednesday's search as a routine check into a client's activities and not into the bank itself.

Two market players said separately on condition of anonymity that Kasyanov was connected to MDM.

Ilya Razbash, however, denied these claims. "The bank does not have anything to do with politics and never has," he said. Kasyanov had nothing to do with the bank's shareholders, he said.