Andrei Kozlov, the top Russian central bank official shot on Wednesday night, was a frontline fighter in the battle against financial crime, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said. “He was a very brave and honest man and through his activity he repeatedly encroached on the interests of unprincipled financiers,” Kudrin was quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement on Thursday.

The central bank also paid tribute to Kozlov, whose title was first deputy chairman in charge of banking supervision. It called him “highly determined, dedicated, modest and charming”. “He made a huge contribution to reforming the banking system, increasing its effectiveness, transparency and stability,” the bank said in a statement confirming Kozlov’s death early on Thursday from his wounds. “It was these characteristics that enabled Andrei Kozlov to enjoy the unimpeachable authority and sympathy of the banking community and all those who worked with him,” it added.

Vladislav Reznik, chairman of the State Duma (lower parliament) financial committee, told Reuters the attack smacked of the contract killings which bedevilled Russia during the 1990s. “I thought this kind of murder was now part of the past. But this attack shows it isn’t,” Reznik told Reuters. Reznik said Kozlov was a close colleague and a friend. “They assassinated Kozlov because he withdrew bank licenses. It is horrible that these attacks still happen in Russia. The government must find the killers.” He declined to speculate as to who was behind the murder, carried out by gunmen outside a soccer stadium.

Other bankers, businessmen and politicians were also shocked. “This is horrible news,” Anatoly Aksov, a member of Russia’s National Banking Council, told Reuters on learning of the death. “There can be only one motive — I believe Kozlov was murdered because of his work against organizations involved in crime.” “Thanks to Kozlov, our banking system is stronger. Kozlov was our most dynamic central banker. His killers must be found.”

Like Aksov, the head of Russia’s business lobby Alexander Shokhin also said he believed Kozlov’s work led directly to his death. “This is shocking news —- I had only seen him a few days ago at the Sochi banking conference,” Shokhin, the head of Russia’s business lobby, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, told Reuters.

“This is just like the beginning of the 1990s when business problems in Russia were routinely settled with murder. This is the first case of that kind in many, many years. That is the other big shock,” said Shokhin, a former Russian chief debt negotiator and deputy prime minister. “The financial and business community will react. Kozlov was a very important person for the government. I believe it is not difficult to find his killers,” said Shokhin.

14.09.2006 MosNews