VTB Q3 results blunder: Err… how much?

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The last thing Russia’s state bank VTB needs is another African mishap.

In 2013 and 2014, VTB – with BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse – raised $2 billion in bonds and loans for companies owned by Mozambique’s defence ministry.

Less than half of that amount was publicly disclosed, and the proceeds were partly used to buy military speedboats, as opposed to their declared use: the country’s tuna fishery activities.

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Andrey Kostin,
VTB

VTB, under chairman Andrey Kostin, has reportedly become the object of scrutiny by US, UK and Swiss financial regulators as a result of these transactions.

The bank denies any wrongdoing, but it is quite clear that it can ill-afford another public relations disaster on the continent – and yet that is what just happened.

Struggle

In its third-quarter results, the bank declared that the Central African Republic owed it $12 billion in obligations – an enormous amount for a country whose GDP is less than $2 billion, according to the World Bank.

If this debt were to exist, one struggles to see how VTB could ever get its money back, and why it would have extended such sums to one of the world’s poorest countries in the first place.

Now VTB has blamed the strange disclosure on a clerical error. When it said the Central African Republic, it really meant… Cyprus – a country where Russia’s financial institutions are known to be very active.

Oh, and another surprising loan – $160 million to the Vatican – has now altogether disappeared from the bank’s results.

Software glitches happen, human errors, too, but investors who depend on the reliability of public results need to know that VTB’s strategy and figures are sound. Because of the bank’s past in Mozambique, that is especially true of its activities in Africa.

This blunder does not help.