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  Business / Banking

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2002. Page 3

Keystone Probe Leads to the Grave

By Valeria Korchagina
Staff Writer


The Keystone construction company, which is facing charges of swindling Sberbank out of $89 million, has an even blacker cloud hanging over it.

Investigators say they suspect that the former general director, Gennady Shulman, who died last summer aged 55, may in fact have been killed, and last Friday they had his body exhumed for forensic analysis.

What's more, Shulman's widow believes her husband's death is the work of the new general director at Keystone.

"There are grounds for suspicion that Shulman did not die of natural causes," an official who controls the investigation at the Khimki prosecutor's office said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The investigation was opened in September after Shulman's widow filed a report with prosecutors in Khimki -- a town neighboring Moscow in the northwest, where Keystone owns a community of cottages -- claiming her husband had been murdered, the official said. The widow, whose name was not disclosed, pointed the finger at her husband's successor at Keystone, Yelena Klimenkova.

Interfax reported that Klimenkova and Shulman were involved in a personal relationship.

Staff at Keystone's office in Moscow said Monday that Klimenkova was sick and thus unavailable to comment. The official in the prosecutor's office said the investigation was still going on and no further details could be made public.

Shulman's death was initially said to have been the result of an illness, and one Keystone employee said the staff still believed this to be the case. "We don't believe that he was killed," the employee said, declining to give her name. "Everyone saw that he was seriously ill after the car accident." She did not give any specifics about the accident.

As part of the murder investigation, Shulman's body was exhumed Friday from its grave at the prestigious Vagankovskoye Cemetery in Moscow. It was unclear when results of the forensic analysis would be known.

Keystone was founded as a privately owned company with 100 percent Russian capital in April 1995 and now has a staff of 300 employees.

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry's organized crime department charged Keystone with fraud and money laundering, saying it had funneled off $89 million of a $150 million loan from state savings bank Sberbank.

The bank provided the loan from January 1998 to February 2001 to fund construction of the 83,500-square-meter Tsar's Garden office complex, which opened last month on Sofiiskaya Naberezhnya, just opposite the Kremlin.

It was unclear Monday whether the fraud and murder cases were related.

Questions remained over Sberbank's handling of the $150 million loan. Sberbank is known for its strict procedures when issuing loans.

The loan was originally given by Moscow Sberbank, a regional subsidiary that ceased to exist in 2000. The head of Moscow Sberbank at the time the credit line was opened, Gennady Soldatenkov, now deputy chairman of Vneshtorgbank, declined to comment on the Keystone loan. He indicated, however, that the loan was approved higher up in the Sberbank hierarchy. No comment was available from Sberbank management.

"To obtain a $150 million loan, a construction company must have good connections and provide sound security," said Mikhail Matovnikov, deputy director general with Interfax Rating Agency.

Yulia Nikulicheva, research analyst at Jones Lang LaSalle, said the Tsar's Garden complex was not as nice as the $150 million price tag would indicate.

"It has a very inefficient internal layout," Nikulicheva said. "It's very dark inside." She said Jones Lang LaSalle had offered to act as consultants for the project, but Keystone rejected the offer.

In addition to Tsar's Garden and the Khimki cottages, Keystone owns an office and banking complex at 42 Bolshaya Yakimanka Ulitsa and has plans to build a 22,000-square-meter sports center near Moscow State University.

Staff Writers Victoria Lavrentieva and Robin Munro contributed to this report.


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