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16 May, 2013 14:18

Rosbank CEO charged with extortion

Rosbank CEO charged with extortion

The head of the Russian branch of France's Societe Generale faces up to seven years in prison on bribery allegations after Russian investigators released a sting operation video of him with wads of cash on his desk.

Investigators announced they have opened an official criminal case against Vladimir Golubkov and  his senior VP Tamara Polyanitsyna.

The video footage shows armed police forcefully entering the bank, jumping counters and cornering Golubkov in his office. He stood behind his desk, which had several piles of 5,000 rouble ($150) notes stacked on it.

The investigators said the cash totaled 5 million roubles ($160,000), and the video shows the banknotes carefully laid out across the desk.

"Golubkov demanded, via his subordinate Polyanitsyna, more than $1 million from a businessman to extend the maturity and reduce the interest rate on a multi-million dollar loan," the Investigative Committee alleges.

Golubkov's lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, claimed his client is innocent: "He is being held for 48 hours by the Investigative Committee and faces up to seven years if convicted," Kharitonov said.

According to various media reports on Thursday, an executive at a car dealership informed on Golubkov after he paid several instalments of a bribe to restructure an $80 million loan.

Many western banks have already packed up and left the Russian market, dominated by state giants VTB and Sberbank. Foreign banks have complained about a lack of competition and an even playing field, and the recent corruption probe could result in further retraction of international investors in Russia.

47-year old Golubkov became CEO of Rosbank in 2008.

Many bankers have voiced suspicions about the authenticity of the sting, and some have even suggested it was a set up.

"I know him to be a good man," Garegin Tosunyan, president of the Association of Russian Banks, told Reuters. "The accusations simply don't fit - although the law enforcement authorities are entitled to their theory and to investigate.”

"If you ask me, it is unlikely that he would stoop to such commercial bribery. I hope that investigators will consider the possibility that he was deliberately set up.”

Russian tycoon and a leader of the Civil Platform Party Mikhail Prokhorov also stuck up for Golubkov and signed a petition to the court not to arrest the man, giving his personal guarantees.

“I know him very well. He has always been an honest and professional man, and I am sure he will not hide anywhere," Prokhorov advocated.