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Russia: Bank Official Gunned Down In Apparent Contract Killing

Kozlov (right) with Association of Russian Banks head Garegin Tosunian in April 2005 (ITAR-TASS) Andrei Kozlov, Russia's Central Bank first deputy chairman, died this morning in hospital, hours after being ambushed by gunmen in Moscow. Prosecutors claim the attack was a contact killing likely to have been prompted by Kozlov's campaign to clean up the country's murky banking system.

MOSCOW, September 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Andrei Kozlov, 41, was a highly respected figure in Russia.

Since his appointment as Central Bank's first deputy chairman over four years ago, he had been spearheading an aggressive campaign to close down banks accused of money laundering and other malpractices.

As many as 44 of Russia's 1,200 banks lost their licenses this year.

A Man With Enemies

Bankers and those who knew Kozlov personally say they have little doubt that his murder, which investigators describe as a contract killing, is connected to his professional activities.

A timeline of high-profile killings in Russia.

MORE: Coverage of this event in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.

Garegin Tosunian, the head of the Association of Russian Banks, told RFE/RL that Kozlov is likely to have made many enemies over the past four years.

"He was a person who was responsible for [banking] control, who had been implementing a reform over the past few years -- a fundamental reform fostering transparency, civilized methods, and new rules of the game on the market," said Tosunian.

"So, of course, he could have made enemies and ill-wishers. This is a very thankless job, especially when you carry it out honestly and uncompromisingly. This [killing] is connected with this."

Point-Blank Shooting

Kozlov was shot by two unidentified gunmen late September 13 as he left a Moscow stadium after a football match between bank employees.

The gunmen fired almost point-blank, killing Kozlov's driver on the spot and badly wounding Kozlov himself before fleeing.

Kozlov died today in the early hours after undergoing emergency surgery on wounds to his head and chest in a nearby hospital.

Russian television today aired footage of a pool of blood next to a Mercedes car. A body lay nearby under a plastic sheet.

High-Profile Killing

Kozlov's killing, one of the most high-profile assassination of the past few years, has sent shock waves through Russia's business and political community, which had begun to enjoy a higher degree of safety and stability.

Prime Minister Fradkov (right) leading a moment of silent during a cabinet meeting in Moscow today (TASS)

During a partly televised cabinet meeting in Moscow today, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov called for a minute of silence to honor Kozlov and offered condolences to his family.

"This is a serious loss for us -- [the death of] one of our colleagues, and one the managers of the Central Bank," Fradkov said. "I would like to pass on my condolences to his loved ones, his wife, Yekaterina Valeryevna, his three children, and his relatives."

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told a stern cabinet that a high-powered investigation was under way.

Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has taken the investigation under his personal control.

A Dream Of Better Banking

Kozlov's colleagues also describe his death as great loss for Russia's notoriously shadowy and fragile banking system.

Pavel Medvedev, the head of the State Duma's banking legislation subcommittee, said Kozlov made substantial improvements in banking controls during his time in the post.

"Making our banking system more transparent was both his formal function and his dream," Medvedev said. "He achieved immense success. The banking system has become considerably cleaner. I think it will take us a few years to fully realize what Kozlov has done for [banking] control."

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin praised Kozlov's achievements and described him as "a very courageous and honest person who was at the forefront of the struggle with financial crime."

Only last week, at a banking forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Kozlov had proposed handing down lifetime employment bans in the banking sector for anyone found guilty of money laundering.

(RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.)

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