MOSCOW, May 31 (RIA Novosti) – Police have opened a criminal case involving clients of a bank owned by Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, over the reported laundering of almost $1 billion, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
The All-Russian Regional Development Bank was the vehicle for three large transfers to Belarus – one of $290 million and two of $300 million – that took place in 2011 and 2012 as part of ostensible import deals, according to a report by the Vedomosti newspaper.
Making payments for fictitious imported goods from foreign companies is a common way of illegally extracting money from Russia. The foreign companies later move the money they receive to offshore locations.
The criminal case is “not against the bank or its employees, but in relation to unnamed clients of the bank,” a spokesman for the main investigative department of the Russian Interior Ministry in Mosocw said Friday.
Rosneft, led by Kremlin heavyweight Igor Sechin, owns 84.7 percent of the All-Russian Regional Development Bank, the 78th largest bank in Russia by assets according to website Allbanks.ru.
The All-Russian Regional Development Bank confirmed on Friday that investigators had requested information about several transactions from 2012.
“We are aware that clients of the bank are undergoing investigations,” said Irina Limitovskaya, a representative of the bank.
There have been no reports of arrests in the case, and the police have no official suspects.
Banks have limited scope for checking the validity of payments made by their clients in such deals, according to the Vedomosti report, and they are particularly powerless in relation to transfers to Belarus, whose membership of a customs union with Russia means imports and exports are harder to track.
Rosneft did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Sergei Ignatiev, the outgoing chairman of Russia’s Central Bank, said in February that $49 billion left Russia illegally in 2012, half of which was linked to one organized group that he declined to identify. The money was likely to be payments for narcotics, illegal imports, bribes for bureaucrats or tax avoidance, according to Ignatiev.