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Capital stays at home


The end to a three-day siege in a Moscow theatre, where 50 Chechens held more than 750 Russians and foreigners hostage, has done nothing to enhance Russia's image. It is still widely regarded as a cold, inhospitable and unstable place - a perception reflected in some of the lowest per capita foreign direct investment in eastern Europe. But the latest capital flight figures suggest that for Russians themselves the whole country has moved to the Caribbean.

In a dramatic confirmation that Russians finally think the place to invest their money is Russia, flight capital is returning from offshore havens and the outflow has fallen by 80% over the past six months.

For most of the past 10 years companies have sent upwards of $2 billion a month to offshore havens. A massive $160 billion in Russian flight capital is thought to languish worldwide - more than four times the country's hard-currency reserves.

"We plan to reduce capital flight this year, and the money will work in Russia," says Anton Saluanov, the head of the Russian finance ministry's macroeconomics and banking policies department. The ministry says capital flight has plummeted to just $350 million a month, implying that Russian businessmen perceive a dramatic improvement in the investment climate.

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