Probe Into ECB's Rimsevics Headed for Criminal Charges in Latvia

(Bloomberg) -- The corruption investigation into Latvia’s central bank chief, a member of the European Central Bank’s policy-setting committee, is entering a decisive phase.

The probe is being joined by new agencies to ensure it moves along apace, according to Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis. Governor Ilmars Rimsevics, detained for 48 hours in February over bribery accusations he denies, has been prevented from attending ECB meetings, casting doubt on whether he’ll be able to host an external policy session scheduled for June in the Latvian capital of Riga.

Probe Into ECB's Rimsevics Headed for Criminal Charges in Latvia

“The next phase is charges,” Kucinskis said Thursday in an interview, declining to give further details. “Other law enforcement departments are helping so that the process doesn’t have any delays.”

Latvia -- a European Union and euro-area member of 2 million people -- suffered a double blow to its reputation this year as Rimsevics’s detention followed a damning report by the U.S. Treasury Department on the nation’s No. 3 lender. In the ensuing storm of money-laundering allegations, that bank was shut down by the ECB. Latvia is the latest headache from eastern Europe for the Frankfurt-based institution.

Latvia’s anti-corruption bureau says the case concerning Rimsevics involves the alleged solicitation and acceptance of a bribe of at least 100,000 euros ($125,000). The governor has been barred from his office at the central bank and prevented from traveling to perform his ECB duties, measures he’s currently fighting. His lawyer told Bloomberg that bringing charges is a natural process and will reveal more details of the accusations.

Investigators may hand the case over to prosecutors within a few months, according to the anti-graft bureau. The ECB has asked for an expedited legal opinion from the European Court of Justice to see whether the measures placed on Rimsevics to date violate central bank independence.

In the meantime, Latvia is cooperating with the ECB, having earlier drawn criticism from President Mario Draghi for not providing information on the Rimsevics probe as requested. It’s sent explanations to the ECJ and Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola has asked to meet Draghi next week, according to Kucinskis.

It’s unclear how the controversy will affect the ECB’s policy meeting scheduled for June 14 in Riga, which was picked earlier as the one venue beyond Frankfurt where the bank would meet this year. In light of the accusations against Rimsevics, Kucinskis says it would be “impossible” to appear alongside the governor at that event.

“Everyone knows that this isn’t politically organized, that this isn’t fabricated,” he said. The allegations are “a serious thing.”

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