Limiting the possibility to freely dispose of funds in a bank account

Clients of many Russian banks have faced recently the problem of suspending operations on accounts unilaterally without any preliminary notices of a bank to a client. Also, banks block clients' access to electronic banking systems. Banks motivate these actions by the necessity to comply with the requirements of Federal Law No. 115-FZ of 07.08.2001 "On Counteracting the Legitimization (Laundering) of Proceeds of Crime and the Financing of Terrorism" (hereinafter − Federal Law No. 115-FZ).
Federal Law No. 115-FZ grants the right to a bank, independently and complying with the requirements of internal regulations, to treat clients' transactions as suspicious transactions.

However, as practice shows, bona fide and law-abiding legal entities and individuals often suffer from such actions of banks.

To unlock accounts and resume operations, clients need to clearly, fully and accurately comply with bank prescriptive orders (in particular, to provide various documents). The time factor is also important here: as a rule, banks set quite short periods for a client to perform the required actions. All this in the aggregate causes a number of difficulties for clients. Firstly, it leads to additional expenditures of efforts and time of clients, who are compelled to prepare bulk packages of documents for banks. Secondly, it often "slows down" business processes of an organization or an individual entrepreneur which cannot dispose of funds in accounts for settlements with their counterparties, as well as fulfillment of tax liabilities. Thirdly, it can adversely affect the relations of clients with their counterparties, damage business reputation of an organization or an individual entrepreneur, etc.

In view of the aforesaid, the Ruling of the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 30.01.2018 is of particular interest. This Ruling was rendered following consideration of the cassation appeal of a citizen–individual entrepreneur (hereinafter – the Plaintiff) against PJSC Sberbank of Russia (hereinafter – the Bank) in connection with the refusal of the latter to give out cash to the Plaintiff in the total amount of about 56 million rubles from the accounts opened with the Bank (case docket number in the Supreme Court − No. 78-KG17-90).

The refusal of the Bank to give out cash to the Plaintiff was caused by the following circumstances: on 08.12.2015 the Plaintiff transferred about 56 million rubles from his account opened in the name of an individual entrepreneur with JSC City Invest Bank to the account opened with the Bank with the purpose of payment "Funds for personal consumption. VAT free". On the next day, 09.12.2015, the Plaintiff applied to the Bank with a request to withdraw cash from the account practically in full. The Bank suspected the Plaintiff of legitimization (laundering) of proceeds and asked the Plaintiff for documents confirming the economic meaning of the transactions and the origin of money. The documents provided by the Plaintiff were not sufficient for the Bank. The cash withdrawal operation was rejected.

After receiving the refusal, the Plaintiff transferred the disputed funds to five deposit accounts opened with the Bank, then in March 2016 the funds were transferred by the Plaintiff to two personal accounts opened on the basis of two bank deposit agreements concluded by the Plaintiff and the Bank. A month after conclusion of the agreements, the Plaintiff attempted again to receive cash in the amount of about 56 million rubles with interest accrued at the end of the deposit period. However, the Bank again refused to satisfy the Plaintiff's request. At the same time, as further emphasized by the Bank, the Plaintiff could dispose of monetary funds in his accounts in other ways, in addition to receiving cash, in particular, to carry out transactions with the specified funds in a cashless form.

While considering this dispute, the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the decisions of lower instance courts and pointed out that there were no violations in the Bank's actions carried out in the framework of public obligations to control the settlement operations entrusted to it by Federal Law No. 115-FZ.

Thus, the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in its Ruling recognized the Bank's actions as legitimate and justified. Such a position of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation certainly influences the actions of Russian banks and may lead to an increase in the cases of imposing restrictions by Russian banks on the clients' possibility to dispose of their funds in bank accounts.

The lawyers of Sokolov, Maslov and Partners have experience in successfully resolving similar situations and, if necessary, are ready to provide all necessary assistance to the clients to solve the problem.

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