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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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India: Head of ‘world’s largest family’ Ziona Chana dies – leaving behind 39 wives and 94 children | World News

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A man said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in northeastern India.

Ziona Chana had 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren – all of whom lived together in a four-storey pink house with about 100 rooms in Baktawng in Mizoram state.

The 76-year-old was the leader of a local Christian sect, named Chana, founded by his father in 1942 and with a current membership of hundreds of families.

Ziona married his first wife when he was 17 and claimed he once married 10 women in a year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

The chief minister of Mizoram confirmed his death on Twitter, saying the village of Baktawng had become a “major tourist attraction” because of the family.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count Mr Chana’s grandchildren.

In a 2011 interview with Reuters, Ziona said: “I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

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Vladimir Putin: ‘Where is the proof’ Russia is waging a cyber war against the United States? | World News

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Russian leader Vladimir Putin has denied claims his country is waging a cyber war against the United States.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, the Russian president rebuffed accusations Russian hackers, or the government itself, is using technological warfare against America – as baseless.

He said claims his country was involved in cyber attacks had become “farcical”, asking: “Where is the evidence? Where is the proof?”

Mr Navalny at a court hearing earlier this year
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Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny remains in prison

“We have been accused of all kinds of things: election interference, cyber attacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not one time did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof,” he said.

Evidence has been put forward by US intelligence services of Russian hackers targeting the federal government and meddling in US elections.

Mr Putin also denied ordering the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Pressed on whether he had any involvement, he said: “Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president.”

Russian intelligence services have been accused of poisoning Mr Navalny, who survived the incident but now remains in a Russian prison.

Asked whether the former opposition leader would make it out of prison alive, Mr Putin said: “He will not be treated any worse than anybody else.”

Joe Biden will be meeting Vladimir Putin on Wednesday
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Joe Biden will be meeting Vladimir Putin on Wednesday

Mr Putin’s comments come just two days before he and Joe Biden are due to sit down for talks in Geneva on Wednesday.

The US president will be fresh from his meeting with NATO leaders, who have signalled that Russia remains a security risk to Western allies.

In his interview with NBC, Mr Putin said Russia would be willing to engage with other countries including the US and would value “predictability and stability”.

The Russian president has made no secret that he supported Mr Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, who he called “extraordinary” and “talented”.

Mr Putin and Mr Biden have had somewhat more rocky relations, with the current US president agreeing when asked whether he thought the Russian president was a killer.

When this was put to Mr Putin, he replied: “Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles. And none of it surprises me.”

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Finke Desert Race crash: Spectator killed and two injured at Australian off-road event | World News

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A man has died and two others have been injured after a car crashed into spectators during a race in Australia.

The car, which was taking part in the 285-mile (460km) Finke Desert Race, struck a group of people around 22 miles (35km) from the finish.

A 60-year-old man died at the scene.

A man in his 50s was seriously injured and taken to Alice Springs Hospital, while the driver, a woman in her 50s, suffered minor injuries, Northern Territory police confirmed.

Police have issued an appeal for information as they continue to investigate the circumstances.

Motorsport Australia issued a statement calling it “tragic news” and offering “sympathies to the families, friends and all those impacted”.

The governing body also said it would begin its own investigation and provide counselling to all competitors, officials and people associated with the race.

The track is described on its website as having a “reputation for being one of the most difficult off-road courses in one of the most remote places in the world”.

The two-day off-road, multi-terrain race for motorcycles, cars, buggies and quads through desert country between Alice Springs and the town of Aputula, also known as Finke, takes place every June.

The car section of the race has now been cancelled.

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