* Half transfers controlled by "one group" -Ignatyev
* Flight equivalent to 2.5 pct of GDP -central bank study
* Ignatyev broadside comes before retirement
* Kremlin "takes note" but disagrees with findings
By Douglas Busvine and Katya Golubkova
MOSCOW, Feb 20 Russia's central bank chief
complained on Wednesday that some 2.5 percent of the national
income was illegally siphoned abroad last year - a revelation
critics said showed the extent of corruption under Vladimir
Bank of Russia chairman Sergei Ignatyev, who is about to
retire, reckoned much of that sum, close to $50 billion, was
controlled by a single group of people; he did not identify them
but many saw it as an indictment of the "Kremlin capitalism"
which has taken hold since Putin first became president in 2000.
One prominent critic called it "state money-laundering".
"You get the impression that they are all controlled by one
well organised group of people," Ignatyev told Vedomosti
newspaper in a front-page interview after a Bank study found
more than half the flows involved firms linked to each other.
"With a serious concentration of efforts by law enforcement
agencies, I think it is possible to find these people," added
Ignatyev, 65, who will retire in June after 11 years running an
institution which has won widespread respect for integrity.
No successor has yet been named.
He called for urgent legislation what would allow banks to
close down accounts suspected of being used for dubious purposes
and urged lawmakers to tighten rules on setting up companies.
Yet in an indication of its sensitivity, Ignatyev did not
touch at all on the subject of illegal capital flight in
testimony on Wednesday to the Federation Council, the upper
house of parliament. Nor was he asked about it by lawmakers.
Asked by a reporter beforehand to identify the "well
organised group" he had spoken of, Ignatyev declined comment.
"STATE MONEY LAUNDERING"
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 gave no comparative figures.
"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 illegal outflow, the central bank estimated
that $14 billion was linked to trade, with the rest made up of
$35.1 billion in "dubious" capital transfers.
The latter represents 60 percent of last year's officially
reported total net capital outflow of $56.8 billion.
The Kremlin took note of the central bank's conclusions, but
spokesman Dmitry Peskov called its figures "highly exaggerated".
Peskov cited state-backed research showing capital flight from
Russia was much lower.
William Browder, the founder of a $4-billion investment fund
who was barred from Russia in 2005, said Ignatyev's comments
showed a vast state money-laundering scheme was operating in
Russia involving officials from the top down.
His Hermitage Capital Management has accused Russian law
enforcement officials of stealing $230 million by seizing
control of its companies and fraudulently securing a tax rebate.
He told Reuters that the Hermitage case was "the tip of the
iceberg, and a documented example of how this state
money-laundering scheme works".
Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for Hermitage Capital
Management, died in custody in 2009 after being arrested while
investigating suspected fraud and theft from the state by
Media magnate Alexander Lebedev said in an Internet blog
that Ignatyev's statement was long overdue.
"Let's hope the next head of the central bank heeds these
words," said Lebedev, whose Russian business interests have come
under official pressure and who faces trial over punches thrown
during a television talk show.
Anti-corruption activists say that capital flight can take
any number of forms, with some banks shifting money through
complex paper trails, shell companies and so-called "encashment"
schemes designed to evade regulators.
"One-day companies" - "odnodnevki" in Russian - are "the
bane of our economy", Ignatyev said, repeating well known
complaints about companies that spring up to commit tax fraud
only to promptly vanish again. Nominee directors, hired for a
fee, typically have no idea of crimes their firms commit.
Big state enterprises in particular are involved in shifting
large sums of cash abroad, sources say, while Russia's
super-rich "oligarchs" use offshore centres to safeguard
Statistics show that Cyprus, a favoured holiday spot for
Russians, is the largest source of foreign investment into
Russia. Most of the money coming from the island, within the
European Union, is itself Russian in origin, bankers say.
The amount of dirty money flowing in and out of Russia has
more than doubled over the past eight years, robbing the country
of productive capital and driving a huge underground economy, a
recent study by a U.S. think-tank found.
Washington-based Global Financial Integrity estimated that
an average of $62 billion in money earned from corruption, human
trafficking, arms smuggling and other illegal activities has
entered or left Russia each year since the start of 2004.
That is a 228 percent increase from the $27 billion in
illicit funds seen annually on average in the prior decade, the