March 23, 2023

Economist Sergei Guriev Doesn’t Plan Return to Russia Soon

Mr. Guriev had taken steps to withdraw his candidacy for the board of Sberbank earlier this week, but bank officials said it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, which made Friday’s announcement all the more dramatic. He received more votes than any other candidate — indeed more than the bank’s chairman.

Though the votes for Mr. Guriev were cast days ago, before the news broke that he had fled, the results leave little doubt that he has the sympathy of a range of powerful figures in the world of finance and government. The bank’s chairman, German Gref, said Mr. Guriev could remain on the board and take part in board meetings by teleconference.

Mr. Guriev’s ideas had helped guide economic policy during the presidency of Dmitri A. Medvedev. After Vladimir V. Putin returned to the post, Mr. Guriev became one of the most prominent people to vocally support opposition causes. Since then, prosecutors have questioned him repeatedly in a conflict-of-interest case centering on a 2011 report he helped write that criticized the prosecution of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a Putin rival and oil tycoon.

Kremlin officials have cast Mr. Guriev’s decision to leave the country as a purely personal one, but many in Moscow saw his flight as part of a new and foreboding phase in the crackdown on political opposition.

The Sherbank vote is “a display of solidarity from what are known as ‘in-system liberals,’” said Yevgeny N. Minchenko, director of the International Institute for Political Expertise in Moscow. Mr. Guriev, he said, is well connected in this circle of powerful technocrats who still dominate in Russia’s economic sphere, corporate world and system of higher education.

For days, Moscow insiders have been debating whether Mr. Guriev had truly been in jeopardy, and on Friday he offered a detailed account in e-mail exchanges of what led to his decision to leave Russia. He said scrutiny from investigators in the court case had mounted over the spring, culminating in a sudden — and, to his mind, alarming — demand that he surrender five years’ worth of professional and personal e-mails and submit to searches of his office and home.

In particular, he was worried that investigators were preparing to name him as a suspect rather than a witness in the conflict-of-interest case. Prosecutors contend that some of the experts who helped write the 2011 report that criticized the prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky had received money years earlier from his company, Yukos.

Mr. Guriev feared that the authorities could take away his passport and prevent him from leaving Russia — a serious consideration because his wife and children live in France. He said he also feared that the authorities would press him to serve as a witness in a new prosecution targeting Mr. Khodorkovsky, who is due for release from prison next year.

His informal exchanges with investigators were disturbing, he said — one of them asked if he was considering leaving Russia. In late April, increasingly anxious, he reached out to well-placed friends and concluded that his political protection had diminished.

“Some people told me the risks are acceptable, some advised me not to return, but nobody gave guarantees,” he said.

“I won’t go back even if there is a small chance of losing my freedom,” he said by e-mail. “I have not done anything wrong and do not want to live in fear.” He added that he had “no issues with Putin or Medvedev.”

Moscow’s power elite has been consumed with discussion of the case this week. In pro-government circles, many said Mr. Guriev had over-dramatized the investigation. But most analysts agreed on one thing: Mr. Guriev falls into a category of power brokers who disagree with the Kremlin’s anti-Western course and intense consolidation of power, but who have generally remained quiet about political changes.

Patrick Reevell contributed reporting from Paris.

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DealBook: Citigroup Sells Turkish Consumer Unit as It Pares Global Operations

Hakan Ates, chief of DenizBank, which is buying Citi's consumer banking business in Turkey.Murad Sezer/ReutersHakan Ates, chief of DenizBank, which is buying Citi’s consumer banking business in Turkey.

LONDON – Citigroup agreed on Thursday to sell its consumer banking business in Turkey to the local lender DenizBank in its latest move to offload international assets.

DenizBank, which was itself acquired by the Russian firm Sberbank for $3.5 billion last year, will acquire assets worth around $650 million and customer deposits totaling $800 million, according to a company statement. The price for the deal was not disclosed.

Shares in the Turkish bank rose 9.5 percent in afternoon trading in Istanbul on Thursday.

The move by Citigroup to sell its Turkish consumer banking unit comes as the financial giant is paring back its operations outside of the United States.

In December, Citigroup announced plans to pull back or sell its consumer banking businesses in several emerging markets, including Pakistan, Romania and Paraguay.

The efforts are part of a plan by Citigroup’s new chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, to cut yearly costs by $1.1 billion by 2014. The plan also includes 11,000 layoffs across the bank’s global operations.

As Western banks revamp their businesses in the wake of the financial crisis, many are reducing their worldwide footprint in countries where they cannot compete with local rivals.

The British bank HSBC also has announced a series of disposals in recent months, particularly in developing economies like Pakistan and Colombia.

The deal for Citigroup’s Turkish consumer banking business is expected to close in the third quarter of the year.

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DealBook: Sberbank of Russia to Buy DenizBank for $3.5 Billion

A Sberbank branch in Moscow.Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg NewsA Sberbank branch in Moscow.

LONDON — Sberbank of Russia agreed on Friday to buy DenizBank, a Turkish subsidiary of the struggling French-Belgian lender Dexia, for $3.5 billion, as the Russian bank looks to expand into the fast-growing Turkish market.

The multibillion-dollar acquisition is the largest ever takeover by Sberbank, which is controlled by Russia’s central bank. The deal will allow the Russian bank to diversify from its domestic market into a country that has been able to grow despite its close connections to the struggling economies of Europe.

“With this acquisition, Sberbank will enter a highly attractive market, which has demonstrated exceptional growth and profitability levels in the recent years,” Sberbank’s chief exexcutive, Herman Gref, said in a statement. “Under Sberbank’s ownership, I believe DenizBank will be able to further strengthen its position in the Turkish market.”

The Russian bank and Dexia, which received a multibillion-dollar bailout from the French and Belgian governments last year, had been in discussions since mid-May over the takeover of DenizBank.

Dexia’s disposal of its Turkish operations is part of the firm’s efforts to sell assets and raise capital after receiving its bailout last year.

Sberbank’s expansion into Turkey follows similar moves into Eastern Europe earlier this year. The Russian bank acquired Volksbank International, a subsidiary of the Austrian lender Oesterreichische Volksbanken, for 505 million euros ($629 million).

The acquisition of DenizBank is expected to close by the end of the year.

Deutsche Bank, Rothschild, Troika Dialog and the law firm Linklaters advised Sberbank on the deal, while Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the law firm White Case advised Dexia.

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