Friday 15 November 2019

ECB governor accused of taking cash, holiday bribe

Trial: Latvian central bank chief Ilmars Rimsevics faces bribery allegations
Trial: Latvian central bank chief Ilmars Rimsevics faces bribery allegations

Gederts Gelzis

Latvia's central bank chief, who led the former Soviet republic into the euro, appeared in court yesterday accused of bribery, in the first corruption trial of a European Central Bank governor.

Latvia's public prosecutor has accused Ilmars Rimsevics, 54, of accepting the offer of a €500,000 bribe and taking a paid holiday in Russia.

Mr Rimsevics' trial is a landmark case for the 20-year-old euro currency bloc, which spans EU countries from Ireland to the three Baltic nations that neighbour Russia.

The case has tarnished the image of the ECB, where Mr Rimsevics sits on the governing council, along with the heads of the central banks from each of the euro member states.

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Mr Rimsevics appeared in court alongside Latvian businessman Maris Martinsons, who prosecutors allege acted as a middleman.

State prosecutor Viorika Jirgena said the central charge against Mr Rimsevics was that he took a bribe. If convicted, he could face jail. Mr Rimsevics denied the accusation, while Mr Martinsons' lawyer also denied the charges.

The case centres on allegations of a €500,000 bribe promised, and partly paid, by two shareholders of Trasta Komercbanka, at a time when the Latvian bank was worried about its future.

Part of the evidence is based on conversations between the defendants in a sauna, secretly recorded by investigators. Mr Jirgena earlier said the issues dated back to 2010, when the shareholders allegedly paid for Mr Rimsevics to spend a vacation in Kamchatka, a wilderness region in Russia.

In return, Mr Jirgena alleged Mr Rimsevics helped them prepare answers to questions from the Latvian regulator, the Financial and Capital Market Commission.

Later, in 2012, the shareholders agreed to pay him €500,000 in two instalments, in return for Mr Rimsevics using his influence to soften treatment of the bank, it is claimed. Lawyers for Mr Rimsevics persuaded the judge yesterday to allow him to travel to Frankfurt in December for what will be his final ECB governing council meeting before his term expires.

He had earlier been reinstated in that post after the ECB challenged his suspension from office. Mr Rimsevics' lawyers argued in court that his position with the ECB granted him immunity from such a prosecution.


Irish Independent

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