$16.5M Cash Burglary, But Not Clear if Lawyer Is Victim or Suspect

Lawyer claims he was robbed of clients' cash, but clients say he took it.

ByABC News
October 27, 2009, 11:43 AM

MOSCOW Oct. 27, 2009— -- A Russian lawyer who withdrew millions in cash from a bank allegedly for his clients says $16.5 million was stolen from his Moscow apartment.

The clients, an elderly couple who inherited the fortune from their dead son, reportedly told police they did not ask lawyer Yevgeny Skoblikov to withdraw the money and he is being held by police for questioning.

Russian newspapers have dubbed the theft "the robbery of the century," and speculation swirls over how the cash disappeared.

A spokeswoman for the southeastern district of the Moscow police department tells ABC News that at 12:40 p.m. Monday, they received a call from Skoblikov who said his apartment had been robbed. Skoblikov told police that two briefcases containing $6 million and 7 million euros ($10.5 million) were taken from his apartment on Volgogradsky Prospect.

He said that he left the apartment between 8 a.m. and noon Monday, returning to find it ransacked. Initially hesitant to reveal how he got the money, he eventually he told police that he had taken the enormous sum out of a bank for clients who had inherited it from a relative.

Suspicion arose when not only were there no signs of forced entry, but $1.5 million in cash was found stashed in a bag in the apartment.

The couple, Nikolai and Zoya Rovbel, are 83 and 72 years old. They recently lost their 47-year-old son Sergei to a heart attack and inherited the millions he made as the owner and CEO of a construction company.

Unable to manage their son's business affairs, they enlisted Skoblikov who had worked closely with Sergei.

Skoblikov told police he withdrew the money on orders from the Rovbels who live in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. When the police interviewed the couple, they denied Skoblikov's statement, according to Interfax.

Withdrawing such large amounts from Russian banks is possible, but it is extremely rare. It would also take several days to process the request and a significant fee would be charged.

Skoblikov has yet to be charged with anything, but Interfax reports that he is being detained for 48 hours to "clarify" what happened.