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Financials

Earlier RZB Russia probe produced no evidence -FMA

* Watchdog FMA says looked into RZB link to Russia fraud

* FMA says probe showed no evidence for money laundering

* Austrian state Prosecutor to examine link again

VIENNA, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Austria’s banking watchdog said it found no evidence for wrongdoing when it looked into possible links between Raiffeisen Zentralbank (RZB) and an alleged $230 million Russian tax fraud now being probed again by prosecutors.

Supervisor FMA said on Tuesday that several months ago it had received information about RZB's [RZB.UL] RIBH.VI possible role in the fraud involving hedge fund Hermitage Capital, but that its investigation had not found any evidence.

“The investigations have produced no indications whatsoever that RZB did not obey the necessary measures to prevent money laundering,” an FMA spokesman said.

The fruitless FMA probe preceded a new review started by Vienna prosecutors of RZB’s relationship with a now-defunct Russian bank, Universal Savings Bank (USB), which Hermitage said was a channel for embezzled funds. [ID:nLDE68C1XJ]

Hermitage claims its former subsidiaries were seized by Russian officials and used to defraud the state of $230 million in tax refunds, and says its efforts to get the units back and identify the fraudsters had been met by a lack of co-operation in Russia.

Russian police countered with the launch of a tax evasion investigation into Hermitage, but the saga took a dark turn late last year with the death in prison from untreated medical complications of 37 year-old Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Hermitage says RZB operated or maintained bank accounts for USB and one other bank related to the fraud.

Hermitage, which under co-founder Bill Browder was once Russia’s biggest investment fund, has triggered the Austrian prosecutors’ probe by filing a money-laundering complaint about RZB. The FMA spokesman said he could not say who provided the information that started the FMA’s probe.

According to documents provided by Hermitage on Monday, Vienna state prosecutor Michaela Holler in June asked Austrian police to find out why in dealings with USB, RZB did not report suspicions of criminal activity.

The probe is charged with finding out why RZB “did not prepare and file any notice of suspicion of money laundering and did not conduct any checks in relation to the source of origin of the large amounts of money,” Holler said in the document.

A spokeswoman for the prosecutors’ office confirmed the letter and said she did not expect police to report back before late October.

She said prosecutors would only decide on the basis of those findings whether formal investigations against RZB executives would be started.

RZB has denied any wrongdoing. (Reporting by Boris Groendahl in Vienna and John Bowker in Moscow; Editing by Will Waterman)

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