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Central bank chief suspended in Latvia corruption scandal

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Imagine the turmoil if Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, had spent the weekend under arrest following allegations from a leading bank that he had been seeking and accepting bribes – all as payments from another top UK bank had been suspended while it was under investigation for laundering money including funds destined for North Korea’s missile programme.

That, roughly, is what is currently happening in Latvia. Ilmars Rimsevics, the governor of the Baltic state’s central bank, was arrested at the weekend on suspicion of demanding and receiving bribes worth more than €100,000.

Mr Rimsevics, who has held the post since 2001 and who also sits on the governing council of the European Central Bank, denies the accusations.

Latvia’s anti-corruption agency announced on Monday it had launched criminal proceedings against him.

Meanwhile, ABLV, Latvia’s third largest bank, stands accused by the US Treasury of widespread money-laundering.

The European Central Bank (ECB), which supervises Latvia’s banking system, has suspended all payments by the bank in the meantime.

Among those on whose behalf ABLV is said to have managed transactions include North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, a body the UN says helps finance the pariah state’s nuclear missile programmes, while the bank is also alleged to have handled money from Ukraine, Russia and Azerbaijan obtained corruptly.

ABLV denies the accusations.

And, in a third development, the country’s state police are separately investigating another senior official from Latvia’s finance sector – as yet unnamed – on suspicion of accepting bribes from a Russian businessman.

What is particularly striking about the accusations against Mr Rimsevics is that they come from another Latvian bank, Norvik, which is controlled by the Russian businessman Grigory Guselnikov.

It says Mr Rimsevics has been demanding payments since 2015 and threatening tougher regulation if the money was not forthcoming.

In response, Latvia’s prime minister, Maris Kucinskis, has suggested the allegations are “an attempt to disrupt the reputation of the Latvian state”.

Mr Rimsevics, who has refused to step down but who was today suspended from his post, says he has received death threats.

It’s all a mess – and one with potential to embarrass both the ECB and the European Commission.

The ECB, while responsible for regulating ABLV’s financial stability, is resisting attempts for it to investigate the US allegations of money laundering.

As for Brussels, there is potential for embarrassment because the current commissioner for financial services is Valdis Dombrovskis, a Latvian who succeeded Britain’s Lord Hill following the latter’s resignation after the EU referendum.

Mr Rimsevics himself is, according to the Associated Press, “privy to the state secrets of Latvia, NATO and the EU” having held senior positions overseeing the country’s banking system during the 25 years or so since it broke away from the old Soviet Union.

The problem for Latvia, a country of just two million, is that this is not the first time its banks have been accused of money-laundering.

Some of the money looted from the Russian state by corrupt officials in a fraud uncovered in the mid-2000s by Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer later beaten to death in a Russian prison, passed through the Latvian banking system.

Most major banks stopped offering “Correspondent Banking” services – where a large international bank clears the foreign currency transactions of smaller banks through major financial centres – for Latvian banks years ago.

Numerous offshore companies named in the leaked Panama Papers had connections to Latvia. And as recently as March last year, the French national prosecutor called for the president of another Latvian bank, Rietumu Banka, to be jailed, amid allegations it had been laundering money illegally obtained by French nationals.

Yet Latvia has worked hard in recent years to clean up its act amid concerns that the loss of Correspondent Banking services had potential to hurt the country’s businesses.

Many customers who were deemed to put the banks at risk of money-laundering have been dropped by the banks.

The timing of all these allegations, accordingly, looks rather unusual.

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UK joins US, EU and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarus following forced landing of Ryanair flight | UK News

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The UK has joined the US, the European Union and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarusian officials following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight last month.

The plane travelling from Greece to Lithuania on 23 May was diverted to the Belarusian capital Minsk where authorities arrested opposition blogger Roman Protasevich.

In a statement on Monday, the Foreign Office said seven individuals and one organisation had been sanctioned due to the diversion of the flight and a further four individuals and an entity had been sanctioned over human rights abuses in Belarus by President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gestures during an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall
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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced joint sanctions against Belarusian officials alongside the US, EU and Canada

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the joint action has been taken as the Lukashenko regime “endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew” in its attempt to capture Mr Protasevich.

“The UK and our partners have today sanctioned those responsible for the continued suppression of democracy and human rights in Belarus,” he said.

“The Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew in a shameful ruse to snatch Roman Protasevich.

“We will hold the regime to account in co-ordination with our allies including through further banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off oil export revenue streams.”

Those with sanctions imposed include BNK (UK) Ltd, an exporter of Belarusian oil products, one of the country’s main revenue streams.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that the sanctions are necessary “to promote accountability for the Lukashenko regime’s transnational repression and its affronts to international norms”.

Belarus airs questioning of Roman Protasevich detained after forced plane landing
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Mr Protasevich after he was detained following the forced plane landing

In a joint statement the UK, US, EU and Canada said: “We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments.”

The flight in May was escorted to Minsk city by a warplane following reports it had explosives on board, according to an online flight tracker and Belarus state news agency BeITA.

Mr Lukashenko told Belarusian MPs he did the right thing. Pic by ordering the Ryanair plane to land. Pic: AP
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Mr Lukashenko told Belarusian MPs he did the right thing. Pic by ordering the Ryanair plane to land. Pic: AP

But opposition groups in Belarus called the incident a hijacking operation by the government.

Mr Protasevich was arrested after the plane touched down and no explosives were found.

He runs the opposition Telegram news channel NEXTA, which is hostile to Mr Lukashenko and has become one of the main sources of news about demonstrations in the country.

The blogger was placed on a wanted list after last year’s mass street protests following an election in which Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, claimed a landslide victory.

Following his arrest he has appeared in several videos shown on state-controlled TV, appearing to praise the president and admit to organising protests.

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‘They can’t hide these secrets anymore’: Anticipation is high for impending release of Pentagon’s ‘UFO report’ | US News

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On the second floor of the Aquarius Casino Resort, two of Nevada’s quirkier attractions are on offer.

Turn left and you can pledge until death do you part in the wedding chapel, turn right and you are deep in wonders of the annual UFO Mega Conference.

For 30 years, researchers and enthusiasts have gathered to digest and dissect the latest mysterious goings-on in the skies above.

Alien shop
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The Alien Research Center is a gift shop on Nevada’s ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’

For most of that time, they did so in the knowledge that they were regarded as conspiracy theorists or, as one attendee put it, “people in tin-foil hats”.

But this year’s conference took place in Laughlin in Nevada with the US gripped by its government’s public acknowledgement that there is something out there and that they have no idea what it is.

Well, not that they’re telling us anyway.

Among those who have been saying this all along – and often attracted widespread mockery for it – this is a moment of deep satisfaction.

Not that they think we are getting the whole truth.

Curiously, people who believe fervently in alien lifeforms do not believe at all in Washington DC.

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“I think the push for disclosure has been happening for decades and I think it’s gaining momentum,” said Katie Griboski.

The UFO researcher has given a talk called “High Strangeness on a Colorado Ranch”.

She added: “I don’t think the government can hide these secrets anymore and so they’re trying to cover their butts a little bit.”

Still, all this mainstream acceptance is a dizzying experience.

“About two years ago, if I told someone I was a UFO researcher, they’d give me that funny little look. And now it’s on the news almost daily, they’re like ‘Oh, really?’ and they’re inquisitive,” Ms Griboski said.

“If nothing else, that’s a good thing.”

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The affectionally-named ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ leads to Area 51

Next to the main conference hall at the casino, attendees stand gossip about this new credibility. Stallholders sell books and DVDs about what the government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” and others offer a variety of ways of being healed. One involves footballs.

There is a joy on the face of Ronny Dawson. He had already described to a rapt audience a “journey from horror to alien contact” in his Texas bedroom. During alien “home invasion” in 2010, he had been paralysed in his bed.

“They pulled my consciousness out of my sleeping body, apologised for disturbing my rest, and said they needed to have a conversation,” he said.

Mr Dawson said his visitors wanted to know how to open a channel of communication with humans. “I said: ‘Fly a big ship around the earth until everybody on earth has seen it.'”

He says the US government is reacting to the inevitable. “I think the reason they’re doing it is because the ETs are tired of waiting and they’ve given us a deadline: ‘Either you tell them, or we will.'”

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A US government task force has been investigating dozens of reported sightings

Throughout the week-long conference, attendees were treated to movie premieres, previously-unseen footage and speeches from writers, experts and self-proclaimed “contactees… delving deep into what has been until now a sprawling sub-culture”.

There was even an evening of live entertainment with a “master of paramentalism” who promised he could guess the colour of your underwear.

Few of those we spoke to had great faith in the likelihood of full transparency from the Pentagon.

The reason? “I think there would be mass panic,” said Tracey Myles. “I think people can’t handle the truth. I think they’re very closed-minded.”

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A small aircraft, nicknamed the ‘tic-tac’, was sighted in 2004

Pollyanna Infante, who describes herself as a “hybrid” who has regular telepathic communication with alien lifeforms, believes we have nothing to fear from them. In fact, she says, their message is a call to action.

“Essentially they want us to stop destroying our earth and they’re not going to let us destroy it.”

And, armed with the experience of his own encounter a decade ago, Ronny Dawson is realistic about what comes next.

“I think it’s a time bomb. It won’t matter down the road a few years. Some people are not going to believe it until it’s walking down the street and they’re still going to scratch their heads.

“But that’s the way we’re going and the government has no choice.”

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‘Something’s out there’: UFO researchers welcome release of Pentagon report into ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ | US News

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The release of a report by the Pentagon, detailing what the US government knows about what it calls “unidentified aerial phenomena”, is being seen as a moment of validation by members of the UFO community.

Researchers and investigators, for so long mocked as conspiracy theorists and worse, say the revelation that a “UAP Task Force” has been collecting evidence for the Department of Defence for more a decade confirms their suspicions.

“The phenomenon has just been validated by the papers coming out that, yes, there’s something out there. No, we don’t know what it is, but it’s worth looking into. And that’s what we’ve been doing for decades,” said Chris Jones of the Mutual UFO Network.

Chris Jones
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Chris Jones believes the evidence so far is worth looking into

The government task force has been investigating dozens of reported sightings and encounters between US military personnel and unidentified flying objects.

Among the most striking evidence are cockpit videos recorded by US Navy pilots of objects appearing to defy the rules of physics.

Sean Cahill was serving about missile cruiser the USS Princeton in 2004 when he was one of many to witness what has become known as the “tic-tac”.

The white oblong-shape, the size of a small aircraft, showed no outward signs of conventional propulsion and darted around alarmingly at high speed.

At the time, Mr Cahill said, he assumed the military’s nonchalant reaction to the sightings was evidence the object was part of a secret US programme.

Now, he believes, there are serious national security concerns.

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The ‘tic-tac’ showed no outward signs of conventional propulsion

“I feel that I was I was pulling something out of the future,” he said.

“This was not just another flock of birds or a balloon or a or swamp gases, we knew that this was a craft that was outstripping our arsenal, and that was in 2004.

“I did feel it was historical then. Now I’m positive of that fact.

“But I think that there’s even more out there that we need to we need to see and understand.

“I hazard to say that if we don’t pry this out into the daylight right now I fear that it’ll go right back into the black and it’ll be another 70 years before we actually find out what this is.”

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Sean Cahill believes there is ‘more out there’

But some of those who have been in space are doubtful the sightings are of alien spacecraft.

Leroy Chiao, a former commander aboard the International Space Station, said: “Although I think there is life elsewhere in the universe, the distances are so vast that I don’t think we’ll ever find each other.”

Leroy Chiao
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Leroy Chiao is a former commander aboard the International Space Station

The Pentagon report is the culmination of a push by politicians, including former US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, for greater openness.

He told Sky News: “This goes back 70 years and we know initially the government did everything it could to cover it up. I think the new technology we have has made it more difficult for the government to deny what is going on.

“The government has got to be part of it and no longer be part of a cover-up, they’ve got to be transparent in everything they do.”

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The road to Area 51, affectionately dubbed ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’

The budget Mr Reid helped secure created the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programme. Now defunct, its former director has heralded the publication of the report.

Luiz Elizondo told Sky News: “We’re at a critical mass where at least the conversation has moved forward and I don’t think we can go back.

“We now recognise that these things are real, whatever these things are, and I don’t know how you can rewind the narrative of that.”

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