By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU, June 21 (Reuters) - A Moldovan court sentenced businessman Ilan Shor to seven and a half years in prison on Wednesday for his role in a $1 billion banking scandal that nearly bankrupted the tiny former Soviet republic two years ago.
Known locally as the "theft of the century", the scheme saw the equivalent of an eighth of Moldova's gross domestic product disappear from three of its largest banks, including Banca de Economii, between 2012-2014.
An investigation into the banking fraud has identified around 40 people who either benefited from the scheme or facilitated it, but most of them have yet to be publicly named.
Shor, who was a senior executive at Banca de Economii at the time, was found guilty of causing financial damage of 5.2 billion lei ($1.26 billion) linked to the scandal. He denies any wrongdoing.
"Shor has never accepted and will not accept the ruling of the court - he gave a full confession," Shor's lawyer Denis Ulanov said after the sentencing.
"He named everyone who stole money from the bank, he named everyone who received money in the form of loans from the banks," Ulanov said, adding that his client would appeal against the verdict.
Another businessman and a former prime minister of Moldova have also been jailed in connection with the scam, in which money was siphoned overseas through dodgy loans, asset swaps and shareholder deals.
The scandal triggered street protests and the International Monetary Fund and the European Union froze aid. Moldova's leu currency plunged to record lows and inflation climbed into double digits.
Vitaly Andrievsky, the head of Moldova's Institute of Effective Policy, an independent think-tank, said Shor's sentencing would be welcomed by the public.
"It shows that the authorities are fighting corruption and theft not with words but with deeds," he said.
Shor's sentence must be approved by the state Court of Appeal before it can come into effect. ($1 = 4.1238 lei) (Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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