ECB Banker Back at Work, But By No Means Off the Hook in Latvia

(Bloomberg) -- Latvia’s central bank governor may have won a reprieve from Europe’s highest court as he fights bribery charges, but the European Central Bank board member remains in legal peril at home.

The European Union Court of Justice ended almost a year of exile for Ilmars Rimsevics last month, ruling that his suspension by Latvia was illegal. While he’s back at work in Riga and allowed to attend ECB Governing Council Meetings in Frankfurt, authorities in the Baltic nation say he’s likely to stand trial in his homeland this year.

“The probability that this case will be ended is minimal,” Viorika Jirgena, the prosecutor in charge of his case, said in an interview.

Rimsevics’s 2018 detention for allegedly accepting $250,000 and other perks from a bank whose license was revoked in 2016 was part of a tumultuous year for Latvia. The country’s No. 3 lender was earlier closed following money-laundering accusations from the U.S. Treasury. The government embarked on a sweeping clean-up of the financial sector, which has long been a magnet for opaque cash from the former Soviet Union.

Neighboring Estonia has since been implicated in handling illicit funds, as have a slew of European banks.

Restricted Access

Rimsevics’s EU court victory was down to Latvia refusing to hand over evidence, fearing it would be shared with his lawyers while he was still testifying back home. Jirgena took the decision not to supply the material, which includes conversations secretly recorded at a sauna outside Riga.

Rimsevics, whose term as governor ends in December, continues to provide testimony in Latvia in an effort to overturn the charges against him.

Aldis Pundurs, one of his lawyers, blames the allegations on a bank that lost its license because of money laundering, saying its owners are testifying against Rimsevics in exchange for freedom from criminal liability.

“Ilmars Rimsevics has explained and refuted everything the prosecutor has up to now asked,” Pundurs said by email. “Unfortunately, it’s obvious that there’s high-level political pressure on the prosecutor to send the case to court at any cost.”

‘More’ Evidence

Since Rimsevics return to work, the central bank has restricted access to documents involving his case and commercial banks connected to it. All legal inquires go through a deputy.

PNB Banka, a Latvian lender that’s publicly sparred with Rimsevics, said Tuesday that it would seek assurances from the ECB that Rimsevics won’t participate in any regulatory decisions concerning it.

While Rimsevics is receiving his salary again, measures concerning his travel, bail and meeting certain people remain in force. One of those people works at the central bank, according to Jirgena, who’s been strengthening her case.

He was charged “when I was convinced there was enough evidence,” she said. “But at the moment, thanks to the fact that the pre-trial investigation has continued, there’s even more.”

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