Top Russian banks to close in protest of organized crime


MOSCOW -- Russia's biggest commercial banks plan to shut down today to protest the murder of one of the most powerful banking executives in Russia.

Nikolai Likhachev, who had been the chairman of the Russian Agricultural Bank, was shot last Thursday by two gunmen at the entrance to his apartment house.

The murderers got away, and the police say they have no leads.

The slaying has set off a storm in Russian banking circles. Leaders of the top commercial banks said yesterday that something has to be done to stop organized crime before it devours Russia.

The head of the Revival Bank, Dmitri Orlov, said the murder was nothing less than "outright terrorism."

The leaders of all the major banks said in a joint statement that for several months "Mafia-like structures" had been taking "reprisals" against bankers and businessmen. They complained that the police have taken "no effective measures" to combat a wave of extortion, blackmailing, kidnapping and murder directed against legitimate businesses.

To draw attention to their grievances, the banks said they would shut down most or all of their activities today. The protest is timed to coincide with Mr. Likhachev's funeral.

Currency exchanges in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk also will close down.

Gennady Chebotarev, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's organized-crime section, denied that the police were not actively pursuing Mr. Likhachev's case.

In an interview with the Interfax news agency, he said police and prosecutors were sifting through a large amount of information, and had established that the murder was premeditated.

He acknowledged that there has been an assault by organized crime against Russian banks.

But not only there: Mr. Likhachev was one of about 24,000 Russians who have been murdered so far this year. Mr. Chebotarev said the police have solved or closed about 85 percent of those cases.

The slaying of Mr. Likhachev was at least the 22nd contract murder here in 1993, according to police. There probably have been many more.

This year, as well, 69 people have been kidnapped by criminal gangs and held for ransom. Police say there have been at least 8,000 cases of attempted extortion -- and that that's probably just a small fraction of what's really going on.

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