Russia charges ex-EBRD director with bribery
MOSCOW (AFP) – The Russian interior ministry on Tuesday charged Moscow’s former representative to the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) with seeking to procure a US$1.4 million bribe.
The announcement followed a months-long investigation and intense pressure from British authorities for their Russian counterparts not to hinder one of the biggest probes into the 22-year-old financing institution for assistance to ex-Communist states.
The interior ministry said ex-EBRD executive Yelena Kotova and a group of others promised to extend a Canadian energy firm operating in Russia a US$95-million (71-million-euro) loan in exchange for the payment.
A Russian banker identified as Igor Lebedev was named as an intermediary in the alleged scheme.
The accused “deliberately took steps to obtain illegal monetary compensation from a Canadian oil and gas company”, the interior ministry statement said.
It added that Kotova “made the final decisions on credits and indirectly guaranteed the businessmen (that she would give them) a positive answer in exchange for receiving from the latter the sum of US$1.425 million”.
Kotova had served as the London-based bank’s Russia department director from 2005 until her resignation in December 2010.
London police opened a money laundering and bribery case against her in early 2011 after the EBRD lifted the immunity of both Kotova and three other former and acting Russian officials at the bank.
The interior ministry statement described Lebedev as a “leading” Russian banker but gave no further details on his position.
Kotova’s attorney Sergei Mirzoyev said his client has been prohibited from leaving Moscow in the course of the investigation but was not being put under arrest.
“The defence considers these charges as unfounded,” Mirzoyev told the RAPSI legal news agency.
The lawyer added that the interior ministry was basing its case on the evidence of foreign nationals who do not live in Russia and whose testimony is therefore difficult to check.
London police were initially rebuffed by the Russian authorities when they requested Kotova’s detention in 2011.
Police cooperation between Russia and Britain ended with the 2006 death by poisoning in London of fierce Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.
British authorities suspect two Russian nationals on close terms with the ruling authorities of killing Litvinenko by pouring highly radioactive polonium in his tea.
The EBRD – comprised of 64 shareholder countries alongside the European Union and the European Investment Bank – was founded in 1991 to help the countries of eastern and southern Europe switch to market economies.
The 58-year-old Kotova has led a glamorous and highly visible lifestyle in Moscow despite being under Russian investigation for more than a year.
She enjoyed sufficient prominence in the past decade to be nominated for the EBRD post by a former economy minister and then confirmed by President Vladimir Putin himself.
Her return under a cloud to Moscow in January 2011 also did little to harm her image.
Kotova’s official website shows her sitting next to former Kremlin ideologue and current Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov at a literary awards ceremony just a month ago.
The former banker also describes herself as an author of political novels and an interior decorator of estates her family owns both in Moscow and London as well as Washington.
Her website also lists recent television appearances in which she expounds on everything from culture and her novels to the world credit markets.
She had worked at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank before joining the EBRD.
“I do not like phrase ‘citizen of the world’,” Kotova wrote on her website.
“I have lived – and still live – in many countries at the same time.”