For several years now we have been closely following the state theft/tax fraud perpetrated against Hermitage Capital Management and its CEO William Browder by members of the police and Interior Ministry, which eventually resulted in the death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. As noted in today’s news blast, the Financial Times has revealed a new investigation now underway which has taken the case international, possibly involving the participation of Raiffeisen Zentralbank of Austria (RZB bank). Over the long history of this case, this appears to be one of the most important and groundbreaking events – finally bringing the potential opportunity to have a real rule-of-law court examine the evidence and merits of the case which the Russian justice system has systemically ignored.
According to the FT piece, the Austrian prosecutorial probe will be looking into “RZB’s relationship with Universal Savings Bank, a small and now defunct Moscow bank that investigators say may have been the conduit for at least part of this tax fraud.” However, at the current juncture, RZB is not considered a defendant or officially accused, but rather the authorities are looking for some answers to see whether a formal investigation should be launched into the bank. Officials from the bank have issued a strongly worded denial of any involvement in these tax fraud issues related with the Hermitage matter.
It will be very interesting to see what conclusions, if any, are drawn by the Austrian probe into RZB, as this bank has popped up a number of times in the past in relation to its vast business portfolio in Russia. A few years back, we featured a number of translations from the Russian press about allegations of RZB’s involvement with Diskont Bank and a money laundering ring for the corrupt bureaucrats of the Kremlin, which some sources have alleged has ties to the murder of central banker Andrei Kozlov. If this labyrinthine series of conspiracy theories weren’t enough, a Raiffeisen subsidiary was also put in charge of the delightfully transparent RosUkrEnergo trading group, famous for bringing Turkmen gas to Ukraine.
So whatever became of this investigation? I never heard another piece of news about it, and I sure hope that the Hermitage probe in Austria doesn’t disappear in the same manner without some answers.