Russian Central Bank Blocks Effort by Private Investors to Coordinate on Stocks via Telegram

Russia’s central bank said on Wednesday it had ordered brokers to block the accounts of more than 60 private investors it suspected of coordinating in a Telegram channel to try to raise the share price of an electric utilities firm, Reuters reports.

In a development reminiscent of lurches in U.S. video game retailer GameStop’s stock price in January, the regulator said it had detected non-market pricing on Friday in shares in MRSK Yuga, a Rosseti portfolio company.

The central bank said it had sent instructions to Sberbank, VTB, Tinkoff, Alfa Bank, Otkritie Broker, BCS and Aton to suspend deals and operations on organised trading for individual clients.

Tinkoff said it had received the instruction and would restrict access for 39 clients. Sberbank said it does not disclose information on client operations. BCS and Aton declined to comment. The other brokers did not immediately respond.

It was the first time the central bank had publicly announced it was taking preventative measures, such as blocking brokerage accounts, to stop violations to the law on market manipulation.

The central bank, which was still investigating, identified non-market pricing on MRSK securities at 1300 GMT on Friday, Valery Lyakh, head of the bank’s department for countering dishonest practices, told a briefing on Wednesday.

“This non-market pricing continued for about half an hour,” he added, before the bank detected Telegram channels that were disseminating information about coordinated actions and seeking to create artificial volatility in the market for those shares.

“More than 60 accounts of individuals have been blocked until the situation is clarified,” Lyakh said. “Our task is not to fight with social media sites, but to maintain market pricing.”

Lyakh did not name the Telegram channel, but said the transactions had occurred on the Moscow Exchange.