Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Bank of Latvia sends deputy to ECB amid bribery probe

  • The European Central Bank's governing council is meeting on Wednesday in Frankfurt (Photo: ECB/Flickr)

The Bank of Latvia has sent its deputy governor to the governing council meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB) on Wednesday (21 February), as the bank's governor is being investigated on charges of bribery.

A spokesman of the Bank of Latvia told EUobserver on Wednesday that it will be represented by deputy governor Zoja Razmusa.

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  • Latvia's central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics in 2014, when his country joined the euro (Photo: European Commission)

"I think she should already be in Frankfurt now," he noted.

Normally, the ECB meeting is attended by the Bank of Latvia's governor, Ilmars Rimsevics.

However, over the weekend the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau of Latvia (KNAB) detained Rimsevics for 48 hours. He is currently out on bail but not allowed to leave the country.

The KNAB is investigating "alleged solicitation and acceptance of a bribe by a public official" – Rimsevics. According to the fraudbusters the alleged amount of the bribe was "not less than €100,000".

"After the detention one of security measures that shall be applied is a prohibition to continue to perform person's previous duties," the KNAB said in a statement on Monday.

It followed a press statement released by the Bank of Latvia on Sunday, noting that the country's central bank "continues its business as usual".

The central bank said it could not comment on the investigation, but said it would cooperate fully with the probe.

"[The Bank of Latvia] would like to stress that in our work we follow a zero tolerance policy in respect of corruption and other illicit activities and, as in the past, we will continue to ensure all possible assistance to law enforcement authorities in order to facilitate a quicker clarification of the current situation," it said.

'I'm not guilty'

Rimsevics denied any wrongdoing at a press conference on Tuesday (20 February).

"I have not demanded or received any bribes," he told press.

Rimsevics said he would remain at his post.

"At the moment, I've taken the decision not to step down, because I'm not guilty," he said in a press conference on Tuesday.

"I have become the target of some Latvian commercial banks, to destroy Latvia's reputation," he added.

'Nightmare'

On Tuesday, the Associated Press ran a story in which one of Latvia's banks, the Norvik Bank, accused Rimsevics of demanding bribes.

Norvik Bank's chairman Grigory Guselnikov told the AP that Rimsevics had told the bank to "cooperate", handing a piece of paper with "100,000 per month" written on it.

"It was a nightmare for me for years," Guselnikov was quoted as saying.

"You can't understand how to get out of this dirty environment without reputation damage. That is why I decided to go out publicly and legally with my case," he said.

Smear campaign?

While Rimsevics is now facing political calls to step down, Latvia's prime minister Maris Kucinskis said on Tuesday that the Norvik Bank accusations could be an attempt to "disrupt the reputation of the Latvian state".

"There is reason to think that this is more likely Norvik Bank's and Mr Guselnikov's attempt to harm the state's image," said the centre-right prime minister.

Meanwhile, ECB chief Mario Draghi has not commented on the case, and the European Commission also limited its contribution to a single quote.

"We consider, as far as the governor is concerned, that this is a matter for national enforcement authorities, and we have no further comment," said commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas on Monday.

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