Almost $50 billion left Russia illegally in 2012: central bank

MOSCOW Wed Feb 20, 2013 2:04am EST

Russia's Central Bank Governor Sergei Ignatyev leaves after a news conference in Moscow February 15, 2013. Ignatyev attended a news conference after talks with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Russia's Central Bank Governor Sergei Ignatyev leaves after a news conference in Moscow February 15, 2013. Ignatyev attended a news conference after talks with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Credit: Reuters/Grigory Dukor

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Nearly $50 billion was transferred out of Russia illegally in 2012 and more than half this sum may have been controlled by a single group of people, the central bank said on Wednesday.

Sergei Ignatyev, chairman of the Bank of Russia, was citing the findings of a study that the bank said it would publish later on Wednesday.

"You get the impression that they (half the transfers) are all controlled by one well-organized group of people," Sergei Ignatyev, chairman of the Bank of Russia, told the Vedomosti daily in an interview.

Ignatyev, who is due to retire in June, declined to identify the group in response to a reporter's question at the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, where he was due to deliver an address.

But the central bank analysis appears to be an indictment of President Vladimir Putin's brand of state capitalism, which critics say has allowed official corruption to flourish on a huge scale.

It also marks an unusually strong intervention by Ignatyev, who during his 11-year tenure has kept a generally low profile, seeking to preserve the central bank's policy autonomy without pushing for full, Western-style independence from politics.

Putin is due to nominate a successor to him in March, but no front runner has yet emerged.

The central bank study found that $49 billion, or around 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, was spirited illegally out of Russia last year.

"It can be payment for narcotics ... 'grey' imports ... bribes and kickbacks to officials (and) managers making large-scale purchases," Ignatyev told Vedomosti. "It can be schemes to avoid tax."

Of the total, the central bank estimates that $14 billion is related to trade operations, with the remainder made up of $35.1 billion in "dubious" capital transfers.

The latter represents 60 percent of last year's officially reported total net capital outflows of $56.8 billion, according to the study.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Katya Golubkova, Editing by Timothy Heritage)