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Center-Invest's shareholders have chosen Erste Bank.

Erste Bank der österreichischen Sparkassen AG (Erste Bank) has acquired a 9.8% stake in Center-Invest Bank from a group of minority shareholders.

Center-Invest Bank was set up over 15 years ago by the first enterprises to be privatised in southern Russia. Many of the heads of these companies became shareholders in Center-Invest and they have assisted the bank at all stages of its development. Two years ago a small number of minority shareholders requested that a suitable replacement be found for them, namely, a foreign bank with a good history and reputation, strong management, and a desire to develop the economy of southern Russia.

Several European banks met these criteria and talks were held with each of them. The price terms were based on Center-Invest Bank's IFRS accounts. Erste Bank offered the most flexible terms and presented the business philosophy that is the most consistent with Center-Invest's principles and development strategy.

Alongside Center-Invest's existing shareholders – EBRD (27.45%), DEG (22.45%), Dr and Mrs Vysokov (17.85%), Firebird (9.9%), Renaissance Capital (8.15%), and Raiffeisenlandesbank Oberösterreich Aktiengesellschaft (3.58%) – Erste Bank (9.8%) will help introduce best practice into the Russian market. Founded in 1819, the Austrian bank has accumulated a wealth of experience in corporate governance, social responsibility, cross-country and functional structures, operational risk management, and managing business processes and staff. The management model introduced by Erste Bank in 2007 could well be used to restructure the banking services market worldwide, on the basis of market discipline , as required by Basel II.

Through its collaboration with Erste Bank, Center-Invest will strengthen its position in the sectors in which it traditionally specialises: retail, small and medium-sized enterprise, energy efficiency lending, and finance for introducing modern practices in agribusiness. Center-Invest will be able to further improve the quality, accessibility and responsiveness of its banking services, and more extensively promote the sustainable development of southern Russia.

Center-Invest Bank's customers will benefit from new opportunities to access Central and Eastern European markets: with its subsidiaries in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine, Erste Bank holds 18% of the Central and Eastern Europe market. At the end of Q1 2008 Erste Bank had assets in excess of ?200 billion.