Russia's Sberbank threatens legal action against Ukraine

MOSCOW, April 17 Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:32am EDT

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MOSCOW, April 17 (Reuters) - Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, challenged Ukraine on Thursday to provide evidence of wrongdoing and hinted at legal action in response to a criminal investigation into whether the bank facilitated the financing of pro-Russian separatists.

Ukraine's acting Attorney General Oleh Makhnitsky said on Wednesday that his office was investigating 14 banks on suspicion of helping finance separatists who have taken over buildings in eastern Ukraine. As part of this, it launched a criminal investigation into Sberbank, he said.

Ukraine and Russia are at loggerheads over Moscow's annexation of the Crimea region, which has prompted Western governments to impose sanctions against individuals deemed close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine's state security service said on Tuesday that an unnamed Russian bank had transferred 45 million hryvnia ($3.8 million) between March and April for the financing of militant groups.

Sberbank hinted at legal repercussions if Ukraine fails to produce documents that justify the investigation.

"The bank is ready to conduct a detailed examination of the possible claims immediately on receipt of official documents from (Ukrainian authorities)," Sberbank said in an emailed press release.

It called upon Ukraine "either to provide the documents that constituted the grounds for the above statement, or to refute it".

Sberbank said Ukrainian authorities had, for now, made no demands upon its subsidiary in the country in relation to the investigation.

"Sberbank values its reputation and is considering applying to one of the leading international law firms to protect its interests," it said. (Reporting by Megan Davies; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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