A bank failing in Russia is at this point is barely news—a new one collapses almost every other day. But the fact that the Central Bank of Russia brought Bank Peresvet under provisional administration this week bears some scrutiny. Peresvet is special: 49 percent of the bank belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church; about one third of all of the bishoprics’ funds are held as deposits there. And “provisional administration” is often the first step towards a bank declaring bankruptcy.
It all started about a week ago, when Russian media reported that the bank’s CEO, Alexandr Shvets, had disappeared. Several days later, Peresvet began limiting withdrawals, claiming that the news stories about Shvets had unnecessarily spooked customers and created a limited run on deposits. They assured the public that the bank had no problems with liquidity. As for Shvets, the bank’s representatives said that he had fallen ill, but remained in Moscow.
The Central Bank, in assuming control over the bank, said that the Peresvet’s financial problems were caused by “active lending to a developing sector that has been in decline recently.” But according to a recent Fitch report, the questionable loans totaled about 12 billion rubles—almost nothing, experts say, for a bank whose net assets exceed 200 billion rubles ($30 billion).
According to our sources in the financial sector, Alexandr Shvets has absconded for good, taking billions of rubles with him, including some property held in safety deposit boxes. Furthermore, rumor has it that the Russian Orthodox Church has asked the mafia for help in finding Shvets. This rumor is impossible to confirm for obvious reasons, but if it is true, it could help explain why Peresvet might be hiding the fraud from the police. Why turn to the mafia instead of the police? Well, in Russia, using the mafia can be more effective, especially when it comes to making a person give back money he or she has stolen.
Alongside the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry owns a 24 percent stake in Peresvet; 12.5 percent of Peresvet’s shares belong to Aleksandr Shvets.
Peresvet was ranked 44th in Russia in terms of net assets. When Peresvet issued euro-bonds, it said in its prospectus that the Russian Orthodox Church’s reputation helps the bank attract new clients. As RBC reports, apart from the Church, the bank’s top clients were state-run giants, including Inter RAO, RusGidro, and Pulkovo Airport. More than a half of its total loans are to state-run enterprises.
So if Shvets has in fact fled, why did he do it? Maybe he was inspired by the performance of Georgу Bedzhamov, who stole about $3 billion from Vneshprombank—the bank that held deposits from Rosneft, Transneft, and Rosneftegaz, and whose license was withdrawn in January.
Otherwise, God only knows.