05 Nov 2019
Latvia’s central bank chief, who led the former Soviet republic into the euro, appeared in court on Monday accused of bribery in the first corruption trial of a European Central Bank governor.
Latvia’s public prosecutor has accused Ilmars Rimsevics, 54, of accepting the offer of a 500,000-euro bribe and taking a paid holiday in Russia.
Rimsevics’ trial is a landmark case for the 20-year-old euro currency bloc, which spans EU countries from Portugal to the three Baltic nations that neighbor Russia.
The case has tarnished the image of the ECB, where Rimsevics sits on the governing council, which decides the price of money in the euro zone and has the final say in supervising banks.
Rimsevics appeared in court alongside Latvian businessman Maris Martinsons, who prosecutors say acted as a middleman.
State prosecutor Viorika Jirgena said the central charge against Rimsevics was that he took a bribe. If convicted, he could face jail. Rimsevics denied the accusation, while Martinsons’ lawyer also denied the charges.
The case centers on allegations of a 500,000 euro bribe promised, and partly paid, by two shareholders of Trasta Komercbanka at a time when the Latvian bank was worried about its future.
Part of the evidence is based on conversations between the defendants in a sauna, secretly recorded by Latvian investigators.
Jirgena has earlier said the bribery dates back to 2010, when the shareholders paid for Rimsevics to spend a vacation in Kamchatka, a wilderness region in Russia’s far east.
In return, Jirgena said Rimsevics helped them prepare answers to questions from the Latvian regulator, the Financial and Capital Market Commission (FCMC).
Later, in 2012, the shareholders agreed to pay him 500,000 euros in two equal installments, in return for Rimsevics using his influence to soften treatment of the bank.
Lawyers for Rimsevics persuaded the judge on Monday to allow him travel to Frankfurt in December for what will be his final ECB Governing Council meeting before his term expires.
By Gederts Gelzis, Reuters, 4 November 2019
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