MOSCOW, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Armed, masked law enforcement officers on Thursday raided a bank part-owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire Russian magnate who is leading a political party into a December parliamentary election, officials and lawyers said.
The head of the International Finance Club bank, known by its Russian acronym MFK, said the evening raid on the bank’s office in central Moscow had nothing to do with Prokhorov’s Right Cause party or even with the bank’s operations.
“Investigative actions were conducted in relation to one of our borrowers. This has nothing to with Right Cause or Onexim,” the bank’s chief, Oksana Lifar, told Reuters by telephone. Onexim is Prokhorov’s investment vehicle.
But the raid raised eyebrows in a country where critics of the authorities face harassment and law enforcement officers are sometimes employed to put pressure on opponents in business disputes.
A lawyer for the bank, Dmitry Kharitonov, said he could not rule out a link to the party, which Prokhorov took charge of in June, making a controversial political debut ahead of the parliamentary vote and a March 2012 presidential election.
Several luxury cars drew up outside the bank on a busy boulevard near the Kremlin and law enforcement officers, some wearing masks and carrying guns, entered and ordered employees and clients not to leave, Kharitonov said.
“They put all the employees in one area and kept them there for an hour without explaining what was going on,” he told reporters. “After an hour, they said there were no claims against the bank, and no searches were carried out.”
Asked whether the raid could have been related to Prokhorov’s involvement in Right Cause, Kharitonov said, “I cannot rule it out. I don’t know, but I think nothing can be ruled out.”
Prokhorov, 46, who sold a one-quarter stake in mining giant Norilsk Nickel just before the 2008 financial crisis, was ranked by Forbes magazine this year as Russia’s third richest man, with an estimated $18 billion fortune.
Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team, is a founder of MFK bank and owns a 27.7 percent share, the largest of several part-owners including tycoons Viktor Vekselberg and Suleiman Kerimov.
Right Cause is one of a handful of parties challenging the dominance of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, which holds a 315 of 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower parliament house.
However, many analysts say Prokhorov has the tacit approval of Putin, who may want to channel the votes of United Russia critics to a moderate alternative ahead of the presidential election, in which he has said he might run. (Reporting by Oksana Kobzeva, Albina Kovalyova and Gennady Novbik; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)