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Business

Commerzbank Scandal Emerges

German bank Commerzbank confirmed on Monday that five of its current and former employees were involved in a vast Russian money-laundering investigation. The bank's personnel director has resigned.

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Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt

Commerzbank, the third-biggest listed bank in Germany, said it was cooperating with a money-laundering investigations linked to Russian telecoms assets. The bank confirmed that personnel chief Andreas de Maiziere stepped down because of the investigation. De Maiziere was responsible for Commerzbank's central and eastern European business between 1999 and 2004.

"The investigation concerns individuals but not the bank itself," a Commerzbank spokeswoman said.

Prosecutors in Frankfurt said they had carried out searches of the offices of Commerzbank and ten other locations in the Frankfurt area last Tuesday and Wednesday and confirmed that documents had been seized.

"We obviously would like to get this cleared up as quickly as possible," a bank spokesman told Reuters on Monday.

Russian telecoms

The investigation relates to accusations that millions of dollars had been diverted from Russian telecommunications firms and laundered through a Frankfurt-based company since the 1990s. The Wall Street Journal reported the Commerzbank was involved in a series of transactions that diluted the stakes of state-owned firms in the Russian company Telekominvest, set up in 1994.

The prosecutor's office said it was unclear how much money was involved and could not confirm the figure of around 100 million euros ($121 million) quoted in media reports.

The assets may have been used to buy further stakes in Russian companies, according to the Zurich prosecutor's office, which is investigating the case. On Tuesday and Wednesday last week police searched offices in Zug and Zurich, confiscating files and other evidences that are being examined in Germany.

Taking responsibility

Investigators confirmed that the bank's former head of personnel, Andreas de Maiziere, who resigned last week, was among those under investigation.

Commerzbank acknowledged on Monday that de Maiziere was involved in the probe, after previously saying he had resigned for personal reasons.

"With his resignation, de Maiziere took responsibility for the mistakes of colleagues under his jurisdiction," the spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the Frankfurt state prosecutor said the investigation at present is focused only on Commerzbank.

"However, it naturally cannot be excluded that other institutions may be involved," she told Reuters.

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