By Con Coughlin, The Telegraph
UP to 30,000 bankers, businessmen and financiers have been driven out of Russia by Vladimir Putin’s ever-tightening grip on the country’s political and commercial life, according to a prominent exile at the centre of a major banking controversy.
Russians who have been forced to live overseas also estimate that tens of billions of pounds worth of assets have been illegally seized by the Russian government as Mr Putin has strengthened his powerbase.
According to Andrey Borodin, the former head of the Bank of Moscow, the talent drain will only increase when Mr Putin, currently prime minister, runs for re-election as president in March – a poll he is almost certain to win.
“We call ourselves Putin’s exiles,” he said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, his first since fleeing Russia last year.
He said Mr Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, who is set to swap jobs with his mentor, were “using the law to act as gangsters”.
“But unlike gangsters in the West they have one big advantage: they have the police, the prosecutors and the judges on their side,” he said.
Exiled Russian businessmen had he said pooled their knowledge to make what they regard as a solid estimate that about 30,000 people have fled Mr Putin’s rule since he first became president ten years ago, settling in Britain, Europe and the United States.
Mr Borodin was regarded as one of Russia’s leading bankers after he succeeded in turning the Bank of Moscow into one of Russia’s biggest financial institutions.
When he joined the bank in 1996, it had a staff of just six. By the time he left at the end of 2010 it employed several thousand and enjoyed a multi-billion dollar valuation.
In building the fifth largest bank in the country, he benefited from the sort of political protection that is vital for businessmen to succeed in Russia.
In his case it came from Yuri Luzhkov, the former mayor of Moscow. “We had a very good working relationship. The mayor’s political weight would stop any hostile acts against the bank,” he said.
In September 2010 Mr Luzhkov was dismissed on the orders Mr Medvedev shortly after criticising the president and after several claims of corruption.
Mr Borodin was forced to resign as the bank’s president and found himself under such intense pressure from the Moscow police and the tax authorities that he feared he would be arrested every time he set foot outside his home.
A few months later he went into exile after Russian prosecutors accused him of a multi-million dollar fraud involving loans worth £276 million to a property firm belonging to Mr Luzhkov’s wife Elena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman who is now living in hiding in London.
The bank was taken over by VTB, a state-controlled bank whose supervisory board includes leading figures in the administration. VTB’s chief executive claimed that it other questionable loans worth billions to businesses related to Bank of Moscow’s management.
Mr Borodin refuted the charges against him, and said he was the victim of a politically-motivated campaign by the Kremlin to seize control of Moscow’s main institutions ahead of next year’s election.
He said Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev replaced Mr Luzhkov with a pro-Putin loyalist so that they could strengthen their control over the Russian capital.
“Luzhkov was too independent for them. Every political act in Russia is not just about politics. It is also about economics,” he said.
He said that the president sent a special envoy to inform him of the takeover, and that he would have no problem with the police and tax authorities if he agreed to sell his stake in the bank for £500 million – about half its actual value.
Even though Mr Borodin accepted the deal, he soon found himself accused of fraud, and had to flee.