Embattled Latvian Central Bank Governor Reiterates He Won't Quit

(Bloomberg) -- Latvia’s central bank governor dug in over a crisis that’s rocked the tiny Baltic nation, reiterating that he won’t resign in the face of allegations he sought bribes and is instead searching for ways to maintain his role in shaping euro-area monetary policy.

Ilmars Rimsevics, a member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg TV that he won’t step aside, even on a temporary basis. He said he’s spoken to ECB officials, though not President Mario Draghi, about continuing his work there.

“Once you step down, you step down -- and that’s it,” Rimsevics said in the capital, Riga. “I had a conversation with members of the board of ECB, not Mario Draghi personally,” he said. “At the moment there are possibilities, they’re looking into the text so that I could go to Frankfurt and continue work as a Governing Council member.”

The storm around Rimsevics, who was released on bail after being detained last weekend, has rattled the country of 2 million people, a popular destination for cash from the former Soviet Union. It’s not the only scandal: the U.S. Treasury Department has proposed banning ABLV Bank AS, Latvia’s No. 3 lender, from the American financial system, accusing it of institutionalized money laundering and aiding entities linked to North Korea’s missile program.

Bribe ‘Hint’

Latvian officials have urged Rimsevics, who hasn’t been formally charged, to step aside to protect the nation’s reputation. The 52-year-old has led the central bank since 2001, making him the longest-serving head of a national bank on the ECB’s Governing Council, which he joined in 2014 when Latvia adopted the euro. He said Thursday that he’s never been offered a bribe, though there’s been the “hint” of one in the past.

“I’ve been hinted but these are very thin-ice things and you never never know how these things are,” he said.

Embattled Latvian Central Bank Governor Reiterates He Won't Quit

Riga-based Norvik Banka JSC, controlled by Russian-born Grigory Guselnikov, has leveled separate bribery allegations against Rimsevics. The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, which detained him, said its inquiry doesn’t relate to Norvik or any bank currently operating in Latvia. The Defense Ministry has suggested Russia may be behind a disinformation campaign aimed at eroding public trust before elections in October.

Rimsevics said he’s no “friend” of Latvian banks and that some lenders in the European Union, euro-area and NATO member are conspiring against him and making false accusations.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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