In 11 years as Russia’s central bank governor, Sergey Ignatyev has generally kept a low profile. But he seems to have decided to go out with a bang.

In a Vedomosti newspaper interview on Wednesday, he revealed that nearly $50bn was transferred out of Russia “illegally” in 2012 and more than half the money may have been controlled by a single group of people. That sounds vague. But it isn’t. In Russia, a single group of people could only operate on this scale with the knowledge of those in power. A brave man is Ignatyev.

Citing a central bank study, Ignatyev told Vedomosti, the FT’s sister paper: “It seems that they (half the illegal transfers) are all controlled by one well-organised group of people.”

Ignatyev, who is due to retire in June, declined to name names. But his comments were widely seen as a criticism of the widespread corruption that has flourished under president Vladimir Putin, with officials diverting funds from the public purse and from state-controlled companies.

Ignatyev was quite clear that he wasn’t just talking about dodgy paperwork. He told Vedomosti: “This may be payment for shipments of drugs…grey imports…bribes and kickbacks to officials…[or] to company managers making large purchases. Maybe it is a scheme for tax evasion.”

The central bank study found that $49bn, or around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, was removed illegally from Russia last year. Of the total, the central bank said $14bn was related to trade, with the remainder made up of $35.1bn in “dubious” capital transactions.

That comprised a whopping 60 per cent of last year’s officially-reported total net capital outflows of $56.8bn, said the central bank report. In other words, thieves accounted for nearly two-thirds of Russia’s net capital outflow. And that’s the (state-run) central bank speaking. Ignatyev had better be sure of his facts.

Related reading
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