Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 216

Police in St. Petersburg yesterday raided the offices of one of the city’s banks, PSB-St. Petersburg (also referred to in the Russian press as Promyshlenno-Stroitelny Bank and Promstroibank-St. Petersburg). The raid–which was carried out by at least forty people, including special police agents dressed in camouflage–was reportedly carried out as part of a criminal investigation that the St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office launched on November 14 involving alleged bribe-taking. Officials from that office refused to go on record with details concerning the nature of the raid or the investigation. An anonymous police official, however, was quoted as saying that the investigation was focused on a client of the bank, not one of its employees. Likewise, PSB-St. Petersburg’s board chairman, Olga Kazanskaya, was quoted as denying that the raid was connected directly to the activities of the bank itself, but she refused to identify which of the bank’s clients had attracted the interest of the St. Petersburg law enforcement authorities (Kommersant, November 17; Russian agencies, November 16).

What is interesting about the raid on PSB-St. Petersburg is that real power behind the bank is Vladimir Kogan, the chairman of its advisory board and president of Banking House St. Petersburg, the holding to which PSB-St. Petersburg belongs. Kogan is an acquaintance of President Vladimir Putin from the days when Putin was deputy to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and, according to some media reports, saw his influence rise with Putin’s accession to the presidency. Indeed, Kogan, who is reportedly particularly close to Dmitri Kozak, a deputy Kremlin administration chief and a close Putin associate, was reportedly being considered for a high government post or to replace Viktor Gerashchenko as Central Bank chairman (see the Monitor, September 29, October 13).

Kogan has also been linked to members of the St. Petersburg team of economists who in the early 1990s gathered around Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s controversial privatization program who currently heads United Energy Systems, Russia’s electricity monopoly. Several members of the St. Petersburg team now hold high government posts, including Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. Indeed, a newspaper today speculated that the raid on PSB-St. Petersburg was aimed at gathering “kompromat” (compromising material) on Kudrin. The paper quoted an anonymous “high-level official in the law enforcement organs” as saying that law enforcement officials in St. Petersburg may be preparing to revise a corruption case against the city administration’s economics and finance committee, which Kudrin headed during the Sobchak era. It also cited anonymous law enforcement sources as saying that either Vladimir Yakovlev, the incumbent St. Petersburg governor, or certain unnamed “oil barons” might be behind the attempt to find dirt on Kudrin (Vremya Novostei, November 17). That Kogan and Kudrin have no small number of enemies was made clear earlier this month, when the weekly newspaper Versiya accused them of being behind a plot to kill Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev (Versiya, November 13).

For its part, the Gazeta.ru website theorized that the raid on PSB-St. Petersburg was part of a Kremlin attempt to demonstrate that it will not play favorites among the oligarchs in the wake of the recent moves against Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky (Russian agencies, November 17). It is also worth noting that PSB-St. Petersburg created something of a controversy earlier this year when it acquired the Moscow office of the insolvent Inkombank for a fraction of its market value. At that time, the wife of Sergei Stepashin, the former prime minister who currently heads the Audit Chamber, the state’s budgetary watchdog agency, worked in PSB-St. Petersburg. She was subsequently made vice president of Vladimir Kogan’s Banking House St. Petersburg (Moscow Times, November 17).