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Desmond-linked Latvian bank suffers 14pc profit fall

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Stake: Dermot Desmond acquired a third share in Rietumu Banka in 2005

Stake: Dermot Desmond acquired a third share in Rietumu Banka in 2005

Stake: Dermot Desmond acquired a third share in Rietumu Banka in 2005

Profits at Rietumu Banka, the Latvian institution in which billionaire Dermot Desmond has a one-third stake, saw its profit after tax fall 14pc to €18.5m last year as it continued to feel the impact of a 2018 cull of 4,000 'prohibited risk' corporate clients.

Interest income at the bank fell 18.4pc to €38.8m last year, its accounts show.

Mr Desmond first acquired a stake in the Latvian bank in 2005.

The bank cut its client base two years ago after the United States in 2018 accused Latvia's third-largest bank, ABLV, of "institutionalised money laundering". It was a claim ABLV denied.

But the United States called for changes to Latvian banks' business models, and for improvements to anti-money laundering mechanisms.

Rietumu responded to the pressure on Latvian banks by terminating its relationship with about 4,000 clients. They represented about two-thirds of all the bank's non-Latvian corporate customers. The majority of the prohibited risk customers were domiciled outside the EU and OECD countries, in off-shore jurisdictions.

Rietumu said in its latest results that it focuses on providing services to "dynamically-growing enterprises and high net worth individuals from Latvia, the Baltic states, the EU countries and from other countries worldwide".

It also provides loans to investors in the commercial property sector in Ireland.

The latest set of accounts show that on a group basis, Rietumu's profit after tax slipped 5pc to €23.7m. Its group interest income tumbled 14pc to €51.7m.

The bank also incurred impairment losses of just over €8m in 2019, which was substantially lower than the €17.5m in such losses it incurred the previous year.

The bank had total assets of €1.71bn at the end of last year, up from €1.5bn a year earlier, according to the accounts.

Last year, Rietumu was slated to begin an appeal against an €80m fine levied against it by French authorities for tax avoidance and aggravated money laundering.

Rietumu Banka was hit with the fine in 2017 following an investigation begun by French authorities in 2011.

It was found guilty of aggravated money laundering by providing assistance, as a bank, to the placement, concealment or conversion operations of the proceeds of an offence. In addition to the €80m fine, Rietumu Banka was ordered to cease banking activities in France for five years.

The bank said last year that it would "vigorously defend" its position, but that the case could continue for up to another three years.

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