Source Pravda.Ru

Russian agents raid St. Petersburg banks, stock exchange in money laundering investigation

Russian security agents raided several banks and a stock exchange in St. Petersburg Thursday as part of a money-laundering investigation.

Valery Kuznetsov, a spokesman for the regional branch of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said investigators were targeting a group that was illegally claiming value added tax rebates and transferring the money abroad.

In comments to NTV, he said several bank accounts had been seized, along with millions of rubles and foreign currency. Footage broadcast on NTV showed masked agents putting piles of cash into bags and using electric saws to cut open safes.

Kuznetsov said the St. Petersburg Futures Exchange was targeted along with several other banks including the Northwestern Investment and Industrial Bank. However, the exchange's head, Yevgeny Antifeyev, said the FSB had in fact raided other businesses in the same building and not the futures market.

The exchange kept working normally though it suffered "indirect damage" from the misinformation, he said in a telephone interview.

Alexander Mirtskhulava, president of the Northwest Investment and Industrial Bank, said in a telephone interview that about 25 masked men surrounded the bank on Wednesday, handing him an order to close one bank client's account.

However, he said, the account had been closed last year.

The agents then searched the bank, forbade Mirtskhulava from talking on the phone and gathered all the bank employees in one room. The agents also took out cash from several safes.

"In general, FSB was trying to accuse the bank of illegal bank activities, charging it with deals with the clients," he said.

Later, FSB told him that about 10 of the bank's clients were under suspicion of alleged money laundering, Mirtskhulava said. He said some of the people were never clients, and the others had their accounts closed in 2003 and 2004.

It was unclear if anyone had been arrested in the raid.

IRINA TITOVA, Associated Press Writer