Tuesday 17 September 2019

Latvia's embattled central bank chief refuses to go

Banker Ilmars Rimsevics Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Banker Ilmars Rimsevics Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Erich Zann

In his quarter century atop Latvia's central bank, Ilmars Rimsevics has outlasted 19 governments and two currencies, emerging as much more than a guardian of price stability.

But he's now fighting for his professional life, at the centre of a widening drama that includes death threats, dark hints of Russian interference, accusations of North Korean money laundering and suggestions of score-settling among the tiny nation's elite.

In a stunning fall from grace, Mr Rimsevics was taken into custody on Saturday evening, on suspicion of taking bribes.

Released on bail 48 hours later, he then rebuffed appeals from the prime minister, finance minister and president to step aside. He said he was the victim of a conspiracy.

In Frankfurt, his colleagues as European Central Bank policy makers got their first chance yesterday to hear directly about the crisis.

Latvia - 0.2pc of the euro-area economy - is understood to have been the week's hot topic as ECB President Mario Draghi chaired a regular Governing Council meeting in Frankfurt, although the detention of Mr Rimsevics wasn't on the formal agenda, according to an official.

But policy makers will also have to confront the extraordinary crisis now facing the Latvian financial system. ABLV Bank, a Latvian lender accused by US authorities of links to North Korea, has been banned from making any payments.


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