Latvia’s central bank chief released on bail, ECB halts payments to ABLV

EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA

Bank of Latvia governor and ECB member, Ilmars Rimsevics listens to a speaker at a conference in Riga, Latvia, June 5, 2012.

Latvia’s central bank chief released on bail, ECB halts payments to ABLV


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Latvia’s central bank governor and ECB member Ilmars Rimsevics was released on bail late Monday after being taken into custody at the weekend after being accused of taking up to €100,000 in bribes.

The Baltic nation’s anti-corruption agency (KNAB) said in a prepared statement following Rimsevics release that no formal charges had been filed.

The anti-corruption bureau arrested Rimsevics on February 18 after searching his home and office in the capital Riga. Rimsevics, who has served as Latvia’s central bank head since 2001 and sat as a member of the ECB since January 2014, flatly denied the accusations after being released despite calls for his resignation earlier in the day from Latvia’s Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis.

“I can’t imagine that a governor of the Bank of Latvia detained over such a serious accusation could work,” Kucinskis told Latvian television. “In his case, of course, I think that he should resign.”

Kucinskis’ call for Rimsevics’ ouster came shortly after the government held a two-hour emergency meeting to discuss the situation and a separate more serious case involving ABLV, Latvia’s third-largest bank.

The bank was charged last week by the US State Department of laundering billions in illicit funds, including for companies connected to North Korea’s banned ballistic-missile program.

In response to the allegations, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced Monday that it had frozen all of Riga-based ABLV’s payments after what it called “a sharp deterioration of the bank’s financial position.”

ABLV is directly supervised by the ECB under a new set of eurozone oversight laws, which leave the national authorities in charge of enforcing money-laundering regulations.

The ECB’s freeze was followed-up by an announcement by Luxembourg’s financial sector supervisory body, which said it had also suspended payments to the Luxembourg subsidiary of ABLV.

According to reports by the US State and Treasury departments, ABLV’s illegal activities included funnelling billions of dollars of proceeds from corrupt public schemes in Azerbaijan, Russia, and Ukraine and transferring the funds through accounts belonging to shell companies.

Once word spread that ABLV was managing accounts for clients connected to North Korea, including the sanctioned Foreign Trade Bank that handles the funding for Pyongyang’s banned nuclear weapons programme, key financial institutions finally began cutting ties to the bank and thus denying it access to outside funding.

Responding to the developments, the European Commission gave a measured response Monday, saying Latvia’s anti-corruption agency and regulators should handle both cases.

“We have confidence in the responsible supervisory authorities and we consider as far as the governor is concerned that this is a matter for national enforcement authorities and we have no further comments to make in that respect,” said Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas.

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