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    Fitch upgrades Russia's Impexbank to BBB- with stable outlook

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    MOSCOW, May 4 (RIA Novosti) - International rating agency Fitch announced Thursday it had upgraded Russia-based Impexbank's ratings to Issuer Default BBB- from B-, with a stable outlook.

    "The ratings upgrade follows the completion of the acquisition of Impex by Raiffeisen International Bank-Holding AG ("RI"). In Fitch's view, Austria-based Raiffeisen Zentralbank AG ('RZB', or together with RI - "RZB group"), which owns 70% of RI, will have a greater ability to provide Impex support in case of need than its previous shareholders," the agency said.

    Fitch said, "Upside for Impex's IDR may result from greater integration with the RZB group, in particular as a result of closer operational ties or a legal merger with JSC Raiffeisenbank (Russia). Downward pressure on a rating is limited, although could result from any deterioration in RZB's ability to provide support in case of need."

    The agency also upgraded Impexbank's short-term rating to F3 from B, and support rating to 2 from 5. All ratings were removed from Rating Watch Positive. The D/E Individual rating was also affirmed. Impex's $100 million Eurobond issue due 29 June 2007 was upgraded to BBB- from B-.

    "RI announced the acquisition of Impex in January 2006 and took ownership of the bank in May 2006 when it received necessary regulatory approvals and paid the first USD500m instalment of the purchase price. The remaining instalment of up to USD50m will be paid following the publication of Impex's audited IFRS 2006 accounts and may be adjusted depending on valuation of one of Impex's properties, currently under construction.

    "RZB is one of the leading corporate banks and the central institution of Austria's largest banking group. It has a Support rating of '1', reflecting the extremely high potential for support from Austrian authorities (IDR 'AAA'/Stable Outlook) in case of need.

    "Impex is one of Russia's top 30 banks, with a franchise focused on retail and SME clients, acquired mainly through a nationwide regional branch network. JSC Raiffeisenbank (Russia) established in 1998, is one of the top 10 Russian banks and 2.5 times larger than Impex by end-2005 assets. Its franchise is mainly in Moscow, St. Petersburg and several other large cities, where it serves primarily corporates and high-end individuals. Combined, the two Russian subsidiaries of RZB form the largest foreign banking group in Russia, and RI plans to complete the merger of the two Russian subsidiaries in 2007," Fitch said.

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