MOSCOW – Crack police forces raided the office of Russia’s richest woman on Thursday in a probe linked to the $435 million she received from a bank founded by the deposed mayor of Moscow — who is also her husband.
Yelena Baturina called the sweep a political provocation that had nothing to do with the money her Inteko construction company received in a complicated scheme from the Bank of Moscow.
“I know for certain that these searches have no relation to either our company or the Bank of Moscow,” Interfax quoted Baturina as saying.
“This is simply an ordered (raid) and a form of (political) pressure,” she added.
Gun-toting, masked policemen later also searched the offices of the Bank of Moscow and apartments of several of its executives.
“The searches are being conducted as part of a criminal investigation into the embezzlement of 13 billion rubles from the Bank of Moscow,” an interior ministry spokeswoman said.
“The money received through this loan was transferred to the personal account of Baturin,” interior ministry investigator Irina Dudukina said in televised remarks.
The probe into the disputed 2009 loan was launched only weeks after the dramatic departure of Yury Luzhkov from his mayoral seat over the same allegations.
The Kremlin accused the mayor of corruption and investigators launched an inquiry into a 12.76 billion ruble (435 million dollar, 320 million euro) loan the bank issued to a little known firm that was allegedly nothing more than a shell company.
Various media reported that the small firm then went on to purchase a plot of land at what investigators believe was an inflated price from Baturina’s debt-ridden Inteko company.
Inteko allegedly used the proceeds to pay off a large chunk of its maturing debts and stay solvent.
The Vedomosti business daily said the company that acted as the intermediary in the transaction was partially owned by Bank of Moscow executives and had been set up only three months prior to the disputed land deal.
The Financial Times reported that the transaction took place on the same day as the Moscow city parliament approved a 15-billion-ruble transfer to the Bank of Moscow.
It said Russia’s interior ministry was checking whether the funds were illegally transferred to Baturina to help her settle her debts.
Baturina’s whereabouts were unclear Thursday.
Luzhkov has recently sought to establish residency in Latvia and Baturina is known to spend some of her time in Austria.
But investigators stressed Thursday that they may have to call Russia’s richest woman in for questioning — something that seemed unimaginable while Luzhkov was still mayor.
“If there are reasons to believe that Baturina knows something, we will invite Baturina” for questioning, interior ministry investigator Alexei Naichin told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Baturina’s $1.1 billion fortune is widely believed to have come from the real estate contracts that Inteko was awarded by the city without tenders and at inflated prices.
A series of national television specials aired these allegations in the weeks preceding Luzhkov’s ouster as the once-powerful mayor bitterly fought off the Kremlin’s efforts to re-establish its control over Russia’s richest city.
The deputy head of Russia’s audit chamber said Thursday that the financial ties between Inteko and the Bank of Moscow go much deeper than what has been reported so far.
“The loans extended by the bank to Inteko are considerably greater that the 13 billion rubles mention thus far,” audit chamber member Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn told Interfax.
The Bank of Moscow issued a brief statement Thursday calling all charges “fabrications”.
Hundreds of Mexican women protest police rape of teenager
Hundreds of women demanding protection from Mexico City's police force took to the streets Friday after a number of high-profile sexual assault cases involving serving officers.
To shouts of "I do believe you!" and "My friends protect me, you don't," the initially peaceful rally ended with some participants lighting a fire on the second floor of a police building and vandalizing a bus station.
The protesters also sprayed graffiti on the capital's Independence Monument, adorning the base of the stone edifice with the slogan "damned pigs!"
Two reports of attacks on women this month have sparked outrage and bitter recriminations against the city's police force, with protesters mobilizing on social media through the hashtag #NoMeCuidanMeViolan, or "They don't protect me, they rape me."
‘Very good’ White House discussions on Afghan peace deal: Trump
The White House signaled progress Friday in preparations for a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying that discussions between President Donald Trump and top advisors went "very well."
Trump met at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course with national security advisors including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, the White House said.
Also present were national security point man John Bolton and the US special envoy for the talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Hong Kong protesters kick off new weekend of rallies
Hong Kong democracy activists kicked off a weekend of fresh protests on Saturday in a major test for the movement following criticism over an airport protest earlier this week -- and as concerns mount over Beijing's next move.
Ten weeks of demonstrations have plunged the international finance hub into crisis, with the communist-ruled mainland taking an increasingly hardline tone, including labelling the more violent protester actions "terrorist-like".
Activists are billing two planned rallies on Saturday and Sunday as a way to show Beijing and the city's unelected leaders that their movement still enjoys broad public support, despite increasingly violent tactics deployed by a minority of hardcore protesters that have cast a shadow.