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28 Oct, 2008 20:06

Bank regulator's murder: businessman convicted

A jury in Moscow has found businessman Aleksey Frenkel guilty of organising the contract killing of Andrey Kozlov, the Deputy Chairman of Russia's Central Bank. Kozlov, who was on the frontline in the struggle against financial crime, was shot dead in Mos

Six other people put on trial in connection with the murder were also convicted.

The Prosecutor-General's Office argued that Frenkel was linked to the establishment of banks whose licences were revoked by Kozlov due to money laundering, leaving Frenkel with “multi-billion-dollar losses.”

An investigation concluded that Frenkel was involved in creating financial structures such as “VIP Bank” and “Sodbiznesbank”.  The inquiry claimed that as a result of Kozlov’s activities, the banks’ licences were withdrawn, leaving investors heavily out of pocket.

“It was revenge. Frenkel personally disliked Kozlov. He was also trying to protect his remaining assets,” said Chief Prosecutor Gulchakhra Ibragimova.

The shooting took place in the car park of a football stadium. The gunmen fired from point-blank range, killing Kozlov’s driver instantly and fatally wounding Kozlov himself. He died early the next morning.

Kozlov had not asked for protection, even after receiving an anonymous threat warning him about a possible contract hit, Central Bank Chairman Sergey Ignatyev told Moscow City Court.

“The message said the banks were displeased with the actions of the Central Bank and Kozlov personally, and that there was a group of persons who would stop at nothing less than his physical elimination,” Ignatyev said.

“Of course, it was very unwelcome both for him and me, but we did not take the threat seriously, and so took no action,” he added.

At an earlier hearing, Kozlov's wife Ekaterina said her husband had never mentioned that he or his family had been in any way threatened. The widow ruled out any other motives for the murder not connected to her husband’s work.

Frenkel was arrested on January 11, 2007. Four days later a court ruled that he should be remanded in custody.

Another suspect escaped and an international search has been launched to find him.

The trial was one of the bitterest in Russia's recent history. Both sides accused each other of trying to put pressure on the jury – the defence through bribes, the prosecution through expelling members on formal pretexts.

The defence team has criticised the trial.

“The case is built upon the initial evidence provided by the suspects. In court it was shown that their testimonies did not stand up, and contradicted each other,” defence lawyer Yury Yelmashev said.

“In his statements the judge appeared neither neutral nor objective. He was trying to convey his opinion of the case to the jury with every sentence,” another defence lawyer, Aleksandr Chernov, added.

The jury spent more than six hours locked in debate after failing to come to a unanimous conclusion.

But now Frenkel and the other six will spend substantial time behind bars.

“It was an extremely complicated case. But after eight months we finally have a result, and I am satisfied with the verdict,” Ibragimova said.

But with the defence staunchly opposing it, a lengthy appeal process is now likely.