MOSCOW, February 18 - RAPSI. The police have asked the Moscow branch of the HSBC bank, the founder of the Hermitage Capital investment fund, to provide information on Hermitage Capital companies which opened accounts with HSBC. The request was issued as part of a case on the illegal acquisition of Gazprom shares, the Kommersant newspaper writes.

If the bank refuses to grant this request, the police will search the bank's premises and seize the documents required.

The Interior Ministry's Investigative Department needs documents dating back to 1996 on eight companies, including full bank statements on all their transactions. A ministry representative told the newspaper that the case had been opened on January 24, 2013, but refused to provide any further details.

According to Kommersant, the police are inspecting the legality of the purchase of several million Gazprom shares, which was allegedly carried out at a time when foreigners were not allowed to buy Gazprom securities. The ban was only lifted in 2005.

The investigators believe that Hermitage Capital bought approximately 7% of the Russian gas export monopoly through illegal tax schemes thought to be devised by the company's auditor, Sergei Magnitsky. These schemes included the use of offshore companies. Hermitage Capital allegedly bought the stake using funds accumulated as a result of tax incentives, in particular in Kalmykia (Russian region), where several companies which opened accounts with the bank were registered.

Hence a case was opened against Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder, who was also the chief executive of several companies which bought Gazprom shares.
Browder has been charged with tax evasion to the value of 500 million rubles (circa $16.6 million). The case against Browder and Magnitsky is currently being considered in court.

Kommersant was not able to obtain any comments from HSBC. Hermitage Capital believes that the police's request contradicts Russian legislation.

Magnitsky, a managing partner of the Firestone Duncan auditing firm and the tax and legal consultant of Hermitage Capital Management, was detained on November 24, 2008 and charged with tax evasion as part of the Hermitage criminal case.

Two days later, the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow issued an arrest warrant in his name. On November 16, 2009, Magnitsky died in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention ward.