Former ECB governor to testify on bribery allegations

By America Hernandez

PARIS – Ilmars Rimsevics, Latvia’s former central bank governor, will testify in London in July as a witness in an international arbitration case over alleged extortion in a string of money-laundering and corruption scandals, a Latvian district court confirmed.

The hearing, the result of legal action by the Russian-born one-time owner of a Latvian bank, reopens an embarrassing chapter for the European Central Bank as well as the Baltic state, which has tried to repair its image after a string of money laundering scandals.

Grigory Guselnikov, a naturalized British citizen and former owner of PNB Banka, previously known as Norvik Bank, is suing Latvia, claiming the 2019 takeover of his bank was the result of retaliatory regulatory measures imposed after he did not pay bribes to Rimsevics.

Rimsevics has rejected the allegations and said he is the victim of a smear campaign.

During his tenure as Latvian central bank governor, which ran from 2001 to 2019, Rimsevics led the former Soviet country into the euro and helped set the price of money in the euro currency bloc as one of the ECB’s key policy setters.

He is now on criminal trial in Latvia, where prosecutors accuse him of taking bribes and paid holidays to Russia in 2010 and 2012 in exchange for softer regulatory treatment of another Latvian lender.

A district court in Riga granted permission for Rimsevics, who is barred from leaving Latvia and out on a 10,000 euro bail, to leave the country for London from July 1-15 to testify in the arbitration, a court spokesperson told Reuters.

“He has been occasionally given permission to leave Latvia and has always come back,” the spokesperson added, referring to a 2019 decision to allow Rimsevics to attend ECB meetings before his term ended.

Lawyers for Rimsevics, Guselnikov and the Republic of Latvia did not respond to requests for comment. The arbitration is confidential, meaning Rimsevics’ testimony will not be heard by the public.

During hearings this month, lawyers for both Guselnikov and Latvia will be able to question the former central banker.

Latvia joined the euro zone in 2014 and later put its big banks under the supervision of the European Central Bank, but the country long struggled to tighten financial controls.

Since securing independence from Russia in 1991, more than a dozen Latvian banks have promoted themselves as a gateway to Western markets for clients in Russia and former Soviet states such as Ukraine – and promised Swiss-style secrecy for clients.

(Additional reporting by Andrius Sytas in Riga; editing by John O’Donnell and Christina Fincher)