January 15, 2013 11:24 pm

Russia charges former EBRD director

Russia’s interior ministry has charged a former director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development with bribery, alleging that she solicited more than $1.4m while serving on the board of the multilateral lender.

Elena Kotova, who served as Russia’s top representative to the EBRD in London until 2010, is accused of demanding payment from representatives of a Canadian oil company in exchange for helping it get a $95m loan from the bank.

A Russian banker, Igor Lebedev, has also been charged in connection with the case, which the City of London Police is investigating as well.

Ms Kotova was one of four Russian government officials assigned to the EBRD who came under investigation for alleged corruption two years ago and had their diplomatic immunity lifted. She was dismissed then by Russia’s economy ministry as the country’s representative on the board of the bank, founded in 1991 to help finance eastern Europe’s transition to market democracy.

The EBRD said on Tuesday it had “noted” the Russian authorities’ decision, which “follows their investigation with which we have been co-operating”.

Ms Kotova, 58, a former World Bank and International Monetary Fund official and senior manager with Russian lenders, denies all allegations against her. Sergei Mirzoyev, her lawyer, said she would protest the claims in court if Russian investigators decided to bring the case to trial in the coming days.

Mr Mirzoyev said the case against Ms Kotova had been fabricated by internal rivals at the EBRD who did not want to see her promoted to a then vacant position as a bank vice-president. He added that he believed investigators had only oral testimony.

“There are no documents. There is no proof. There is just an allegation from one person,” he told the Financial Times.

People familiar with the situation at the EBRD, however, suggested its own investigation had found alleged evidence of wrongdoing by Ms Kotova, which had been passed to both Russian and UK authorities. The City of London Police probe is understood to be continuing.

The alleged soliciting of a bribe with which Ms Kotova was charged by Russian authorities was not an isolated allegation, these people added, though they said it had not caused any financial damage to the bank or its activities.

They denied that the allegations hinted at the possibility of more widespread corruption within the EBRD, saying the case had been discovered early by its internal monitoring systems. These had also been strengthened as a result.

Russia is by far the biggest recipient of lending from the EBRD, whose mandate has recently been extended to Arab spring countries in north Africa.

It was not clear on Tuesday whether the decision to bring charges against Ms Kotova was part of a broader, but selective, clampdown on official corruption initiated in Moscow in recent months.

Ms Kotova and Mr Lebedev are not under arrest but have been restricted to staying within Russia. They face fines of prison terms of up to seven years if convicted, according to the interior ministry.

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