Latvia’s finance chief detained
The banking chief was questioned for about seven hours on Sunday.
His home and offices at the Bank of Latvia were both reportedly raided by the Corruption Prevention Bureau, which gave no details about the probe.
Rimsevics has run the central bank since 2001 and is also a member of the European Central Bank’s governing council.
Finance minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola said Rimsevics should step aside for now to protect the country’s reputation.
“Given that the governor of the central bank is a symbol for every country, I think that it would be sensible at this moment that Mr Rimsevics, at least during the investigation, steps down,” Reizniece-Ozola told the media.
“Under the current circumstances… every day that Mr Rimsevics remains in the post of governor of the central bank, the situation substantially worsens,” she added.
Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis called an emergency cabinet meeting for today (Monday) while saying there was no national threat.
“There are no signs that there is any threat to the Latvian financial system,” the premier said.
He added that there was no political interference with the agency’s work.
“The institution works professionally and accurately,” Kucinskis said, pledging the government’s full backing.
Latvia has been accused of acting as a money laundering funnel for Russian capital. In 2014, the leaked so-called Laundromat reports detailed how billions were sent from Russia through Latvia between 2011 and 2014.
The Bank of Latvia, while refusing to comment on the specifics, said it had a “zero-tolerance policy in respect of corruption and other illicit activities”.
The financial institution’s operations were unaffected by the probe and it would open as normal today.
The US Treasury last week told banks not to make dollar transactions with one of Latvia’s biggest banks, ABLV, saying it “has institutionalised money laundering”. This included providing services for firms linked to North Korea’s ballistic-missile programme, according to the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. ABLV has been banned from opening or maintaining a correspondent account in the USA.
A number of banks in Latvia have been subjected to recent probes.
In July, two banks were fined for allowing clients to dodge international sanctions preventing payments to North Korea.
A third financial institution, Norvik Bank, is taking on the government over what it calls “unfair, arbitrary, improperly motivated and unreasonable regulatory treatment”.
Latvia became the 18th member of the eurozone in 2014, in a surprise amid the currency’s crisis.
Latvia’s central bank. Picture credit: Wikimedia