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Activist Shareholder Demands Review at VTB

Alexei Navalny, left, is seeking an explanation from Mattias Warnig, right. For MT / Vedomosti

VTB minority shareholder Alexei Navalny said Tuesday that he had asked the bank’s chief internal auditor, a German named Mattias Warnig, to investigate a suspicious deal or face inquiries by British financial and judicial authorities.

VTB’s depositary receipts are traded on the London Stock Exchange, which makes VTB subject to Britain’s business conduct laws, Navalny said in announcing the threat on his LiveJournal blog.

Navalny, a lawyer and activist shareholder, has chased VTB for explanations for why its leasing arm bought 30 Chinese-made drilling rigs in 2007 and paid $160 million more than they were worth, according to the manufacturer’s price list. In his own investigation last year, he found the rigs unused and rusting in a remote northern storage space.

In a letter that Navalny said he sent to Warnig, he urged him to open an investigation independent of VTB management, make the findings public and ensure a prompt reaction to any future violations. Dated May 6, the letter arrived at Warnig’s office in Switzerland, where he heads the Nord Stream pipeline project, last week, Navalny said.

If Warnig doesn’t do “what he should in his line of duty” Navalny will seek investigations by the Financial Services Authority and other British regulators, he said.

He will then try to recruit other foreign holders of VTB’s Global Depositary Receipts to take one of Russia’s largest banks to court, he said.

“The latter will, of course, require considerable effort. But, as Belka told Strelka, you can make a space flight if you really want,” he said, referring to the two dogs that were the first living beings to go into orbit and successfully return to Earth. “Should that happen, we will sue Warnig individually rather than the bank as such.”

VTB chief Andrei Kostin responded to Navalny’s charges of foul play at the bank by telling the company’s board at a closed-door meeting that authorities found no evidence of a crime, adding that the director of the leasing unit was fired anyway.

A VTB spokeswoman said she couldn’t immediately comment on Navalny’s letter. Spokespeople for Warnig’s oil pipeline company, Nord Stream AG, didn’t answer their mobile phones when The Moscow Times called them on Tuesday afternoon.

Navalny charged that the bank didn’t have proper purchasing supervision in place and failed to make attempts at recovering the funds and punish the culprits. He said he suspected its managers of complicity in what he called a fraud.

“The bank is obligated to meet the standards of corporate governance set by the U.K. regulatory agencies, or face the consequences,” said a copy of the letter posted on his blog. “The same applies to its management and directors.”

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