Latvia in turmoil amid US graft probe

RIGA/FRANKFURT: Latvia’s government was meeting in emergency session on Monday after one of the Baltic country’s biggest banks reeled under accusations of busting sanctions on North Korea and the central bank governor was detained by the anti-corruption agency.
ABLV Bank, the country’s third biggest lender, was ordered to stop all payments as its liquidity position had deteriorated sharply since the US Treasury accused it of money laundering, forcing it to seek central bank funding.
“This means that temporarily, and until further notice, a prohibition of all payments by ABLV Bank on its financial liabilities has been imposed, and is now in effect,” the European Central Bank, its supervisor, said.
The US Treasury sought sanctions against ABLV last week, accusing it of allowing clients to conduct business with North Korea, with bank executives and management bribing Latvian officials to cover up the activities.
“ABLV has institutionalised money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices,” the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the US Treasury, said in a statement linking some of the alleged activities to North Korea’s ballistic missiles programme.
The bank has said the US accusations were based on unfounded and misleading information.
There was no immediate comment from the Latvian government on either ABLV or the detention of central bank chief Ilmars Rimsevics.
The economy in Latvia, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and shares a border with Russia, has been booming in recent years. Its commercial banking sector is dominated by Nordic banks alongside a number of privately owned local lenders.
In a separate development, Latvia’s government increased pressure on central bank boss Rimsevics, an ECB policymaker, to quit after he was detained by police over the weekend in an anti-corruption probe.
— Reuters