The head of Societe Generale's Russian unit Rosbank has been charged with bribery. Investigators released a film of him with cash piled on his office desk, in what several bankers said may have been a set-up.
Investigators said on Thursday they had opened an official criminal investigation against Vladimir Golubkov, who was detained on Wednesday, and his senior vice president, Tamara Polyanitsyna. It is a final step before formally charging them.
Golubkov faces up to seven years in jail if convicted. Polyanitsyna was charged as an accomplice. France's Societe Generale is one of the few western banks left in a market dominated by homegrown Russian state players.
One of the bank's former owners, billionaire politician Mikhail Prokhorov, expressed outrage at the investigation. He said he had petitioned the court where Golubkov was expected to be charged for him to be freed on bail. Prokhorov stood in last year's presidential election on a liberal ticket against Vladimir Putin.
Prokhorov said he knew Golubkov well: "He was always an honourable, professional man, and I'm certain he won't hide anywhere," he said.
Golubkov, 47, was held for more than 24 hours before being arraigned at Moscow's Presnensky Court on Thursday. His lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov said that he denied any guilt, had been kept in "disgraceful conditions" and was not feeling well.
Societe Generale said in an emailed statement it was cooperating with the authorities after Golubkov's arrest.
"Societe Generale is closely monitoring the situation in its Russian subsidiary Rosbank in close cooperation with the Russian authorities," the French bank said.
Golubkov worked through the ranks at Rosbank to take the helm in 2008. SocGen's Russian banking interests were brought under the control of Rosbank, Russia's ninth-largest bank, in 2011. Golubkov was in charge of a turnaround strategy at the bank which was facing high costs and declining market share. It lost money last year.
The court is expected to decide on Friday whether to remand Golubkov in custody or release him on bail.
jm/jr (Reuters, AFP)