By JAN M. OLSEN
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The Latvian member of the European Central Bank’s top policymaking board has denied charges of bribery in a scandal that has raised questions about the EU member state’s financial system.
Ilmars Rimsevics, head of the Baltic country’s central bank, was charged Thursday with accepting bribes. On Friday, after hearing the formal charges, he told public broadcaster LSM: “I completely deny all these allegations.”
Latvian prosecutor Viorika Jirgena said that two shareholders with the bank Trasta Komercbanka had voluntarily reported the corruption case to law enforcement authorities and would therefore not be prosecuted.
Jirgena said that in 2010 a shareholder had asked Rimsevics to help Trasta Komercbanka deal with problems with the financial regulator, promising to buy Rimsevics a trip to Kamchatka in eastern Russia in return for his services. The Associated Press published in February a photo of him on that trip.
In a similar case in 2012, where both shareholders asked for help from Rimsevics, “they made an agreement that a bribe of 500,000 euros (currently $580,000) will be given,” Jirgina said.
Rimsevics said Friday that the allegation of him not paying for a fishing trip “seems to me to be close to incredible.”
Rimsevics has been a suspect of bribery since February, when he was questioned by Latvian anti-corruption authorities. He says he is the victim of a smear campaign by commercial banks.
The AP also reported in February accusations by another banker, Grigory Guselnikov, that share similarities with the tale of the Trasta Komercbanka shareholders. Guselnikov says Rimsevics repeatedly asked for bribes in exchange for help with the financial regulator, which Rimsevics allegedly had influence over. He says Rimsevics also asked him to launder money from Russia.
Latvian prosecutors on Thursday also charged businessman Maris Martinsons with supporting the bribe-taking.
If found guilty, Rimsevics and Martinsons face three to 11 years of prison.
The questions surrounding Latvia have been compounded by the U.S. government’s accusations in February that a Latvian bank laundered money from countries like Russia and North Korea, helping them to evade sanctions, among other things. It said the bank, ABLV, also bribed officials in Latvia to be able to carry out its dirty transactions.
Rimsevics has been barred from carrying out his job. He cannot, however, be fired by the government because the central bank is politically independent.
Worried about not being able to function properly with a board member missing, the ECB has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on whether Rimsevics should be allowed to continue in his job while not convicted of a crime. It has declined to comment on the charges against Rimsevics.
Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this report.