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Ex-Spy's Son to Run State Agro Bank

Former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, the father of Dmitry Patrushev. The younger Patrushev just was appointed to lead Rosselkhozbank. D.Grishkin

The government on Monday unexpectedly removed most board members at its key lender to the farming industry, Russian Agricultural Bank, and replaced its long-serving chief with Dmitry Patrushev, son of the country's former top security official.

In a sign that the move could represent a high-level turf war, the government took away a board seat from Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik, depriving her of a say in how the bank spends billions of dollars in loans to the industry she oversees.

Officials didn't offer any reasons for most of the reshuffles Monday, only announcing that career banker Yury Trushin, who had been at the helm of the fully state-owned institution since its inception in 2000, didn't want to stay there any longer.

First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who oversees agriculture, retained his position as board chairman at the bank, known by its Russian acronym, Rosselkhozbank.

The bank is Russia's fourth-largest lender by assets, and its loan portfolio last year reached 612 billion rubles, or $19.7 billion.

New entries on the seven-seat board include Yury Chikhanchin, chief of the Federal Financial Monitoring Agency, a money-laundering watchdog. He used to be Zubkov's deputy at the agency. Another newcomer announced Monday was Zubkov's chief of staff, Tatyana Kulkina.

Patrushev, 32, will also have a board seat, combining the duties with his new post of the bank's chief executive. He is leaving the position of senior vice president in charge of major clients at the country's second-biggest lender by assets, VTB, to take over from Trushin, 55.

Patrushev is the elder son of Nikolai Patrushev, the chief of the Federal Security Service during the eight-year tenure of President Vladimir Putin. When Dmitry Medvedev took the top Kremlin job, he moved Patrushev to lead the Security Council, an advisory body. Patrushev's other son is a senior manager at the country's biggest oil producer, state-owned Rosneft.

VTB didn't say Monday how long Patrushev had been at the bank. News that he had the job at the financial institution first emerged in September 2006.

Russian Agricultural Bank spokesman Maxim Feoktistov did not answer his cell phone Monday evening, nor did Zubkov's spokesman, Yury Koritsky.

VTB minority shareholder Alexei Navalny, whose quest for transparency at the bank has been a thorn in the side of its top executives, said he harbored no hard feelings for Russian Agricultural Bank after the poaching of the senior manager.

“It doesn't matter,” he said, adding sarcastically that VTB would likely take the loss in stride. “They will hire a similarly brilliant banker in his place.”

Running the agricultural lender, Trushin reinforced his reputation as a skillful manager, receiving the country's 2009 “Best Banker” award last month. The award's jury included officials from the Federal Treasury and industry groups such as the Association of Russian Banks.

“Trushin is a well-qualified professional,” said Garegin Tosunyan, director of the banking association, rejecting the idea that a poor work record might have been why the lender's chief quit. “The reasons for his departure are of a different nature.” He didn't elaborate.

Political scientist Alexei Mukhin said Zubkov — in staffing the bank with loyalists and a relative of the country's former top spy — was seeking to assume tighter control over the lender at a time that necessitates austere government spending.

“Agriculture is a very sensitive area for the government,” said Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, a think tank. “It demands a lot of money.”

In the effort, he likely clashed with Skrynnik, who obviously had an interest in exerting influence over the institution, Mukhin said, adding that the outcome of the power struggle boded ill for the agriculture minister.

“She is on the brink of dismissal,” he said.

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