- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2006

Last week, Russia’s second-ranking central banker, Andrei Kozlov, joined the list of reformer-martyrs whose work has cost them their lives. Mr. Kozlov, 41, the country’s top banking-reform official, was shot dead Sept. 13 outside a soccer stadium in an apparent contract killing. The murder comes only a week after Mr. Kozlov called for a lifetime ban on bankers found guilty of tax crimes and other financial transgressions. It also comes shortly after he rescinded the licenses of several Russian banks thought to be corrupt.

Russian authorities have a critical test on their hands. They must pursue the killers much more aggressively than the financial community has come to expect them to — or else risk a serious loss of credibility and investor confidence. Russia must show that this killing does not herald a return to anything even remotely close to the terrible days of the 1990s, when contract killings were endemic. The world will be looking to Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure personally the apprehension and conviction of the perpetrators.

This murder follows the failed assassination attempt last year on Anatoly Chubais, the architect of Russia’s privatization scheme; it also follows the brutal murder of the crusading American journalist Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, outside his editorial offices two years ago.

Certainly the investigation must be better managed and more open than that which followed Mr. Klebnikov’s murder, which remains a mystery. The trial was secret; the investigation was never even remotely open. “If the verdict hasn’t created shockwaves, that’s because few people know the details,” said Richard Behar, head of the New York-based Project Klebnikov, shortly after the trial’s May not-guilty verdict for the two Chechen suspects whom the government alleged to be Mr. Klebnikov’s hitmen.

“That’s unfortunate because what went down in that courtroom is worrisome in terms of the Russian criminal justice system, or in any society that believes a fair trial can be conducted in secrecy,” he said.

The same would be true in this case. The murderous elements of Russia’s murky and notorious corrupt banking system have just made a direct assault upon transparency and openness. It’s time to act, Mr. Putin.

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