EU Court Nixes Suspension of Latvian Bank Official

An orange sky is seen over the banking district of Frankfurt, Germany, on Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

(CN) – Latvia does not have enough evidence of corruption to suspend a member of the European Central Bank while it investigates him, the EU’s highest court ruled Tuesday.

In addition to serving on a governing council that sets rates at the ECB, Ilmars Rimsevics is governor of Latvia’s Central Bank.

Rimsevics was appointed to the governor position in 2013 and is accused of having accepted a bribe that same year to exert influence in favor of a private Latvian bank.

When Latvian authorities arrested Rimsevics in connection with these charges on Feb. 17, 2018, the country’s anti-corruption office, abbreviated in the decision as KNAB, imposed a number of sanctions two days later. Among other things, Rimsevics has been barred from leaving the country without authorization and from carrying out his duties within the Central Bank of Latvia.

Rimsevics immediately brought an action to remove both restrictions, but the District Court in Riga tossed the challenge in less than a week on Feb. 27, 2017.

On Tuesday, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice ruled that the restrictions against Rimsevics should be annulled.

The opinion notes that Rimsevics has called the allegations against him “highly implausible,” given that the private bank he is accused of assisting ceased trading in 2016 and has gone into liquidation. 

Rimsevics denies that he has any powers to influence the activities of a private bank in any way, noting that it is up to the Financial and Capital Market Commission, not the Central Bank of Latvia, to monitor private banks.

As for the source of the allegations, Rimsevics claims that Latvian authorities are relying on a person who used to sit on the executive board at the private Latvian bank in question who was arrested in 2016 for money laundering.

In exchange for accusing Rimsevics of bribery, however, the criminal investigation against this individual was closed, Rimsevics says.

The EU court notes that it requested supporting documents from Latvian authorities regarding the charges against Rimsevics, but that “none of the documents produced by the Republic of Latvia following the hearing contains any evidence capable of establishing the existence of sufficient indications as regards whether the accusations made against the person concerned are well founded.”

“Consequently, the court must hold that the Republic of Latvia has not established that the relieving of Mr. Rimsevics from office is based on the existence of sufficient indications that he has engaged in serious misconduct … and, accordingly, upholds the plea alleging that that decision is unjustified,” the ruling states.

Before his suspension, Rimsevics was set to conclude his six-year appointment at the Latvian bank this December.

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