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Killing of Top Banker Rocks Official Moscow

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Killing of Top Banker Rocks Official Moscow

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Killing of Top Banker Rocks Official Moscow

Killing of Top Banker Rocks Official Moscow

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The murder of a top Central Bank official in Russia stirs memories of the 1990s, when contract killings were a standard way to settle commercial disputes. The death challenges President Putin's pledge to crack down on crime and corruption.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Just ahead, overcoming early years in Romanian orphanages.

But first, we want to catch up with another story this week, the murder of a top official in Russia. It has stirred memories of the 1990s, when contract killings were standard procedure for settling commercial disputes.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports the latest murder has shocked the Russian political establishment.

GREGORY FEIFER: Andrei Kozlov was the number two official in Russia's Central Bank. Gunmen shot him in the head and chest in Moscow Wednesday night as he left a soccer game between bank employees. He died of his wounds later in the hospital. Politicians say the murder bore all the hallmarks of a contract killing. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told a televised cabinet meeting police had launched a major investigation.

Mr. RASHID NURGALIYEV (Russian Interior Minister): (Through translator) Experienced organized crime investigators went to the scene right away. I'm personally taking control of almost all investigations. We're examining the possibility that the crime was tied to his professional activities, but there are other theories as well.

FEIFER: Kozlov had many enemies. He'd led a serious effort to shut down banks suspected of money laundering and other crimes. Forty-four banks were deprived of their licenses this year alone. On Thursday, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov led a minute of silence before saying Russia's top officials are doing dangerous in a period of transition from communism.

Prime Minister MIKHAIL FRADKOV (Russia): (Through translator) We're trying to create a fair playing field for business in this country, but that's not always accepted by those who wish to have certain advantages and privileges.

FEIFER: Many officials have appeared on television to express outrage over Kozlov's murder. Speaker of Parliament Boris Gryzlov, a former interior minister, said there was little doubt he was targeted for posing a threat to criminal groups.

Mr. BORIS GRYZLOV (Speaker of Russian Parliament): (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: His work overseeing banks' activities, he said, could have prompted criminals in those banks to order the killing.

This month Kozlov had proposed permanently banning from banking anyone involved in money laundering. The measure would end the common practice of re-registering banks under a new name. Banker and former Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov praised Kozlov for his dedication and spotless reputation.

Mr. MIKHAIL ZADORNOV (Former Finance Minister, Russia): (Through translator) The entire banking community believes Kozlov became a victim of his principles. He steadfastly cracked down against banks' illegal activities.

FEIFER: Mikhail Grishankov, who chairs the Duma's Anti-Organized Crime Committee, said Kozlov was conducting extremely difficult work. He said many Russian banks have links to organized crime and corrupt officials.

Mr. MIKHAIL GRISHANKOV (Anti-Organized Crime Committee): (Through translator) It's a very powerful multi-headed system. Imagine, each year it's possible to launder tens of billions of dollars.

FEIFER: Banking became one of Russia's dangerous professions in the 1990s, as the system emerged from the first wild years of post-Soviet capitalism. Gunmen twice shot at a former Central Bank chief in 1990s, and five bankers were killed between 1995 and 1997. Another prominent banker was murdered last year.

Analysts say Kozlov's killing represents a challenge for President Vladimir Putin, who has amassed huge powers by promising to crack down against crime and corruption. They say corruption is rife in Russia, and that the murder should be a wakeup call for the government.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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