St. Petersburg banker settles Russian debts to Swiss firm

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PARIS, March 7 (RIA Novosti, Andrei Nizamutdinov) - A St. Petersburg banker has settled most of the debt the Russian government owed to a Swiss trading firm that has repeatedly sought to seize Russian assets overseas, a French newspaper said Tuesday.

According to Russia Intelligence, which covers political and economic events in Russia and other former Soviet republics, creditor banks for the company, Noga, agreed to let Vladimir Kogan, a multi-millionaire and long-time associate of Vladimir Putin, take over the bulk of Russia's debt.

In a deal worth about $70 million, Kogan paid $40 million and $6.8 million to French banks BNP Paribas and Credit Lyonnais respectively and $20 million to Swiss bank Banque Cantonal de Geneve.

Russia Intelligence specified neither the date of the deal nor the bank representing Russia.

Noga has been suing the Russian government for damages over the early termination of 1990-92 trade agreements on the supply of food and fertilizers in exchange for oil products. In the past, Noga demanded more than $600 million from Russia.

In February 1997, the Stockholm International Arbitration Court ruled that Russia should pay Noga $23 million in damages, on terms providing for rescheduling.

"We recognize the 1997 decision handed down by the Stockholm Arbitration Court in Noga's favor, and have more than once proposed that we implement it as part of our payments of the Soviet-era commercial debt to the London Club of Creditor Nations," Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said.

All creditors of the former Soviet Union accepted the debt rescheduling terms, except for Noga, which demanded that the money be repaid immediately in one lump sum. But the international principle of equality does not allow for exceptions for any of the creditors, Finance Ministry officials said.

In 2000, Noga asked French authorities to freeze the accounts of Russia's Central Bank and arrest a Russian sailing ship. In 2001, it attempted to impound Russian military planes at the Le Bourget air show outside Paris.

In November 2005, a scandal erupted after a $1-billion collection of art belonging to a major Russian museum was seized by Swiss authorities in Geneva at Noga's request. It was later released.

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