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Rogues aren’t always criminals. Take rogue elephants, for example: if they threaten to go on the rampage, it’s neces sary to immobilise them; and if that doesn’t work, to shoot them. After the rampage, that’s a waste of bullets — unless they threaten to come back.

The evidence being patiently assembled at the moment by the Accounting Chamber and the Procurator-General proves that the Central Bank of Russia is totally out of control; operat ing entirely by its own rules; accountable to no-one but itself. It’s not the model independent monetary authority which former Central Bank chairman Sergei Dubinin and his favourites in the press like to claim. It was a rogue elephant during the financial collapse of 1998. It could come back to rampage again.

By concentrating on the suspicion that Dubinin’s bank acted illegally, Russian investigators and public discussion are missing the distinction between the criminal and the rogue. The latter can do — and in Dubinin’s bank did do — just as much damage. Even if he and his subordinates were to be punished, failing to immobilise the Central Bank under Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko allows it to repeat the damage once more. What game warden could be so foolhardy?

For the time being, the most sensitive evidence of what happened to the IMF’s money last July and August is being kept secret by the Central Bank itself, as well as by the IMF and the US Treasury. It’s understandable that the Bank would want to cover up for itself. But why are Michel Camdessus, Robert Rubin, and Lawrence Summers playing along, too?

The answer will emerge, once several unusual features of the IMF payment to Russia become public knowledge. The first is that, for the first time in its dealings with Russia, after disbursements of more than $13 billion, the IMF issued its July loan of $4.8 billion to the Central Bank, not to the Russian government.

That has become the legal technicality on which Gerashchenko now claims the right to withhold from auditors, parliament, and the Russian public, the records of what the Bank did with the IMF money. According to Gerashchenko, the Bank can keep secret records the government would be obliged, under the law, to disclose.

Actually — and this is the second unusual feature of the loan — the US Treasury knows pretty much what happened, because the $4.8 billion IMF money was deposited in a Central Bank account in the National Bank of New York. From there $1 billion went to the Russian Finance Ministry, and the rest appears to have gone to pay for US treasury bills. The serial numbers, the values, and the rates of purchase are all a matter of the American record. If they were held through the crisis, or if they were sold, the Americans know. But this remains a secret in Russia.

What isn’t secret is that almost $6 billion of Central Bank reserves were spent in August. Thus, Dubinin claims he spent $1 billion on filling a hole in the federal budget; and more than $3.8 billion — the rest of the IMF tranche — on propping up the rouble. Which banks bought the dollars the Central Bank was selling during this period, and whither that money trail leads offshore, Dubinin can avoid answering, and Gerashchenko too, because of the peculiar legality of the IMF loan agreement in the first place. Strangely, the investigators have so far been unable to find any record in the negotiation of the IMF loan that explains why the Central Bank became the beneficiary, and why the IMF went along.

The evidence suggests the IMF and the US Government are protecting the men who took the decisions that led up to the IMF loan; took the decisions that liquidated the money; and then decided on the crash of August. In addition to Dubinin, those men are Anatoly Chubais, Yegor Gaidar, and Sergei Kirienko — the government Washington still hopes may replace Yevgeny Primakov, before President Boris Yeltsin leaves office.

Knowing what Dubinin was doing — and just as importantly, not doing — in the days that led up to the rouble devaluation, Russian bond default, and bank moratorium proves that Dubinin wasn’t exactly defending the rouble when he says he was. What he was doing was defending the Central Bank, his bank, himself— at the expense of almost everyone and everything else in Russia.

The evidence spilling out now suggests to the investigators that Russia’s leading commercial banks started defaulting on their obligations at least two weeks before the August 17 crisis. If they were buying dollars from Dubinin, they weren’t paying them out. The evidence also suggests that the demand for a 90-day moratorium on their obligations to foreign creditors wasn’t a last-minute idea, pressed by the oligarchs on a reluctant Dubinin, and on an even more unwilling Sergei Kiriyenko, the prime minister. That’s Kiriyenko’s self-serving version. The evidence, once it’s out, will show that the moratorium came first, not last.

The idea of the rouble devaluation came next, pressed by the oil exporters, and backed by Dubinin, who was determined to conserve his reserves.

The idea of defaulting on the government’s short-term bonds (GKO’s) is the hardest to explain, and Boris Fyodorov’s account of what happened does nothing to clear the mystery up. Again, the emerging evidence is that Dubinin refused to agree to a rescheduling of GKO debt that would have frozen repayment of the Central Bank’s and Sberbank’s holdings, which at the time added up to about 60 per cent of the total. Had he agreed, he risked losing additional reserves on repaying foreign bond-holders. His institution would have been severely penalised, but the state’s credit would have been saved.

What was decided wasn’t exactly a gain for the Central Bank. But it represented less of a loss — of cash and independence — than the alternatives available at the time. Dubinin and the others decided to let Russia crash, while hoping to profit from the way the chips fell.

It was a rogue’s rampage. And until the new management of the Central Bank comes clean, there is no way of being sure it couldn’t happen again.

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