Andrei Kozlov, 41, a first deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia, was shot in the head late Wednesday in what appears to have been a contract killing. Kozlov and his driver, who was killed instantly, were gunned down as they left a sports stadium in northeast Moscow.
The banker underwent emergency surgery, but died several hours later.
"Andrei Kozlov was a founding father of the Russian stock market and an advocate of deposit insurance," said Mikhail Zadornov, head of Vneshtorgbank 24, a subsidiary of the state-owned foreign trade bank Vneshtorgbank.
"He did a great deal to improve Russia's banking system, make it more transparent and conformant with international banking standards."
Zadornov suggested Kozlov was killed because his uncompromising position affected someone's interests, an opinion many experts reiterated Thursday.
Alexander Shokhin, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said Kozlov might have been killed out of revenge, but added the Central Bank would continue its pursuit of stricter requirements and the consolidation of the banking sector.
"Andrei Kozlov was difficult to 'come to terms with' on business matters of cardinal importance," Shokhin said. "He strictly observed the law and Central Bank regulations."
Kozlov oversaw the bank's efforts to clean up the banking sector, ordering the closure of dozens of banks for violations of banking legislation, particularly on money laundering and Central Bank regulations.
Two high-profile cases centered on the revocation of licenses for Moscow-based Sodbiznesbank in 2004 and Neftyanoi Bank in 2006, but the bank has been withdrawing licenses from less prominent banks almost weekly this year.
The daily Kommersant cited banking sources as saying Kozlov's activities also targeted "gray schemes" used by importers to minimize customs duties and value-added tax payments, as well as by criminal and shadow groups to launder money.
The chairman of the boards of directors in the Trust National Bank and Trust Investment Bank, leading merger advisers on the Russian market, remarked on the integrity of Kozlov's principles and his professionalism.
"An amazing integrity of principles, which inspired profound respect, was Andrei's distinguishing feature," Ilya Yurov said. "He believed in what he did and was the one who cared."
Shokhin said barbaric methods are still commonly used to settle business scores in Russia.
"Before this tragic event I thought that such methods had been left behind in the 1990s. But our business appears to be insufficiently civilized, because killings and bribes are still resorted to by dishonest entrepreneurs and bankers trying to achieve their ends," Shokhin said.
Contract killings in Russia were frequent in the 1990s as gangsters sought to take control of lucrative assets in various fields, but a figure as senior as Kozlov has never been murdered before.