* Rosbank CEO Vladimir Golubkov denies wrongdoing
* Faces up to seven years in jail if convicted
* Leading Russian financiers, Prokhorov, defend him
* French bank's Russia strategy questioned
By Katya Golubkova and Douglas Busvine
MOSCOW, May 16 The head of Societe Generale's
Russian unit Rosbank was charged with bribery on
Thursday after investigators released a film of him with cash
piled on his office desk in what several bankers said may have
been a set-up.
The case could increase alarm among international investors
and sheds a damaging light on business practices in Russia,
where France's SocGen is one of the few Western banks left in a
market dominated by homegrown state players.
Vladimir Golubkov, who was arrested on Wednesday, faces up
to seven years in jail if convicted. His senior vice president,
Tamara Polyanitsyna, was charged as an accomplice to the crime.
Golubkov, 47, was held for more than 24 hours before being
arraigned at Moscow's Presnensky Court. His lawyer Dmitry
Kharitonov told RIA news agency that he denied any guilt and
that he had been kept in "disgraceful conditions" and was not
Societe Generale said in an emailed statement it remained
committed to Russia as a core market where it saw "strong growth
potential" and was cooperating with the authorities after
"Societe Generale is closely monitoring the situation in its
Russian subsidiary Rosbank in close cooperation with the Russian
authorities," the French bank said.
RIA reported that the court would decide on Friday whether
to remand Golubkov in custody or release him on bail.
Golubkov worked through the ranks at Rosbank to take the
helm in 2008. One of the bank's former owners, billionaire
politician Mikhail Prokhorov, expressed outrage at the
investigation, saying he had petitioned the court where Golubkov
was expected to be charged for him to be freed on bail.
"I know him very well," said Prokhorov, who ran on a liberal
ticket against Vladimir Putin in last year's presidential
election. "He was always an honourable, professional man, and
I'm certain he won't hide anywhere."
Other leaders of Russia's financial community also spoke out
in support of Golubkov, and said he might have been entrapped.
"The accusations simply don't fit - although the law
enforcement authorities are entitled to their version and to
investigate," Garegin Tosunyan, president of the Association of
Russian Banks, told Reuters.
"If you ask me, it is unlikely that he would stoop to such
commercial bribery. I hope that investigators will consider the
possibility that he was deliberately set up."
The Interior Ministry used the increasingly common practice
in high-profile cases of releasing video footage of a police
raid. It showed officers with automatic weapons barging past
security guards into Rosbank's headquarters in central Moscow.
The film then cut to a scene that showed Golubkov standing
behind his desk, which had several wads of 5,000 rouble ($150)
notes on it. The cash was said by investigators to total 5
million roubles ($160,000). Golubkov, wearing a light grey suit,
looked into the camera but did not speak in the footage.
"Golubkov demanded, via his subordinate Polyanitsyna, more
than $1 million from a businessman to extend the maturity and
reduce the interest rate on a multi-million-dollar loan," the
Investigative Committee said.
Rosbank officials declined comment on Polyanitsyna's behalf.
Rosbank moved swiftly to try to limit damage from the case,
saying it was cooperating with the investigation and that First
Deputy CEO Igor Antonov would replace Golubkov temporarily.
"We are disturbed and upset about what has happened,"
Antonov told the state-owned Rossiya 24 news channel.
He described the arrest of Golubkov as a "raid" reminiscent
of the chaotic years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"It reminds me of the good old 1990s. We haven't seen anything
like it for ages," he said.
The charges are likely to lead to soul-searching at SocGen
headquarters in Paris, which has reaffirmed its commitment to
Russia, a market it first entered at a high price in 2006 but
where it has struggled to turn a profit.
Golubkov was in charge of a turnaround strategy at Rosbank,
into which SocGen's other Russian banking interests were folded
in 2011. But, plagued by high costs and declining market share,
Russia's ninth-largest bank lost money last year.
Western and Russian bankers say loan "facilitation" payments
are common here, but rarely come to light unless someone seeking
to settle a score turns to the law enforcement authorities.