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    Deputy Russian central bank chief Kozlov dies after shooting

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    Russia's politicians have already condemned the killing. "Kozlov frequently damaged the interests of dishonest financiers," Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin said. "He was a very courageous and honest man."

    MOSCOW, September 14 (RIA Novosti) - Andrei Kozlov, a first deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia, died Thursday morning after gunmen opened fire on him with automatic weapons late Wednesday, hospital officials said.

    Kozlov, 41, oversaw the bank's efforts to cleanup the banking sector, and was shot in what bears the hallmarks of a contract killing as he left a sports stadium in northwestern Moscow. His driver Alexander Semyonov was killed at the Spartak stadium and the banker had to undergo emergency surgery after he was shot in the head.

    But a hospital official said Thursday morning that doctors had been unable to save the married father of three. "The patient died early in the morning without regaining consciousness," the representative said.

    Kozlov led efforts to close down dozens banks for violations of banking legislation, particularly on money laundering, and Central Bank regulations. Two high-profile cases centered on the revocation of licenses from Moscow-based Sodbiznesbank in 2004 and Neftyanoi Bank this year, but the CBR has been withdrawing licenses almost by the week in 2006.

    Russia's politicians have already condemned the killing.

    "Kozlov frequently damaged the interests of dishonest financiers," Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin said. "He was a very courageous and honest man."

    Mikhail Grishankov, a senior member of the lower chamber of parliament, said the killing amounted to criminals spitting in the face of the state and punishing the killers was a "matter of honor" for Russia's law enforcers.

    "This is a terrible murder of a person who protected interests of the state and opposed schemes used by some banks to legalize revenues of shadow and criminal business," he said. "Criminal groups that control those banks will stop at nothing."

    Russia has more than 1,000 small banks that are often controlled by one interest-group for its own needs, which has led to legislation against money laundering and terrorist financing being enacted in 2001.

    Kozlov first joined the Soviet Union's central bank and rose to become the first deputy chairman of the Bank of Russia in 1997 before quitting for the private sector in 1999. He held several senior positions, including as chairman of Russian Standard Bank in 1999-2000, before returning to the Bank of Russia in April 2002.

    The Central Bank said in a statement posted on its Web site, "He made a huge contribution to the reform of the country's banking system, making it more effective, transparent and stable."

    Daily Kommersant cited banking sources as saying Kozlov's activities had 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.

    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.

    Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has taken the case under his personal control.

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