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Here’s why it matters for the rest of Europe

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The scandals rocking Latvia’s banking system are the latest in a series of crises for the former Soviet state.

Latvia’s third-largest lender was left facing rapidly mounting problems Monday, after the U.S. Treasury accused it of money laundering and defying Western sanctions. Not only this, the head of the country’s central bank was held in custody over the weekend, accused of soliciting a bribe by Riga’s anti-corruption agency.

“The two issues are confluent in their timeline but appear to be unrelated,” Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC Tuesday.

Latvian authorities also say the scandals are unconnected.

Nonetheless, the dramatic headlines came as a shock to a country which has long-advertised itself as somewhat of a financial bridge between Europe’s west and east.

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OPEC chief pledges to deepen ties with Biden administration

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An off-shore oil platform off the coast in Huntington Beach, California on April 5, 2020.

Leonard Ortiz | MediaNews Group | Orange County Register | Getty Images

DUBAI — Oil-producing group OPEC will continue to strengthen its relationship with the U.S. energy industry under Joe Biden’s new administration, the oil cartel’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo told CNBC on Tuesday.

It comes despite the Democratic leader’s stated commitment to fight climate change and focus on renewable energy.

Barkindo congratulated Biden for his upcoming inauguration during a virtual panel hosted by the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum, and said: “We continue to deepen this relationship, which we found mutually beneficial to all of us.”

“And we intend to continue along this fashion going forward and the administration of President Biden,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in an exclusive interview.

OPEC leaders were known to have at times communicated with outgoing President Donald Trump, who was particularly vocal and active about the oil markets and what he believed oil-producing countries should do to alter crude prices.

Biden’s likely change in approach — as well as his focus on investment in non-oil energy sources — have reportedly unsettled some in the 13-member oil-producing group. The president-elect’s potential return to the Iran nuclear deal, which could bring millions of barrels of new oil onto the market, has also raised concerns. 

The OPEC chief has been diplomatic when it comes to discussing U.S. presidents, but some in the organization are wary of strains with Biden, according to sources cited by Reuters.

Asked if he had been in touch with Biden yet, Barkindo replied: “No, not at all.”

“We believe that we have established very mutually beneficial productive relationships with the industry in the United States. And I think we have no option but to continue to strengthen this relationship under President Biden,” he added.

Climate change under Biden

Dan Yergin, a longtime oil industry expert and founder of IHS Markit, said during the same panel that Biden’s biggest impact on the oil industry would be his commitment to climate change action. 

“I think he is going to step on the gas on climate,” Yergin said. He expects the administration to provide “incentives for electric vehicles … For solar, wind, and more regulations (for the oil industry) across the board.”

The bitter truth is that a clean energy transition is coming, and coming very fast.

Fatih Birol

International Energy Agency

Biden has named climate change as one of the four biggest crises facing the U.S. and plans to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on his first day in office. Trump withdrew from the climate deal in 2017.

Looking ahead, global trends surrounding energy and climate may be worrying OPEC member states far more than whoever is in the White House.

“It is extremely important to understand one thing,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said during the panel. “The share of oil in the global energy markets will decline. And the speed of this decline will be determined by the pace of energy transitions.”

“The bitter truth is that a clean energy transition is coming, and coming very fast,” said Birol.

He also said the world should expect to see more innovations like carbon capture, hydrogen power, electric vehicles and new generation of nuclear power.

“The political position of the U.S. will give unmistakable signals to investors around the world,” he added.

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Trump pardons Steve Bannon, Elliott Broidy, others on last night in White House

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President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally at the Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia.

Leah Millis | Reuters

President Donald Trump issued dozens of pardons on his last night in the White House, including one to his former campaign chief and ex-White House advisor Steve Bannon.

Others who received pardons from Trump included the major Republican fundraiser Eliott Broidy, who pleaded guilty last fall to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, ex-Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has been serving a 28-year prison sentence for fraud charges, and the rapper Lil Wayne, who pleaded guilty to a weapons charge last month.

Bannon, former head of the conservative news site Breitbart, was arrested last year with several co-defendants on federal charges in New York, but had yet to stand trial in that case, where he was free on $5 million bond.

He and the other defendants are accused of defrauding donors to a nonprofit group that ostensibly planned to use the money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a political obsession of Trump and many of his supporters.

In all, Trump granted pardons to 73 people, and commuted the criminal sentences of 70 other people, in what are likely to be his last acts of executive clemency as president.

Trump did not issue a pardon to himself, or to any of his adult children, despite speculation he would do so despite the lack of any pending federal criminal charges against any of them.

The pardons were the third big groups of grants of executive clemency issued by Trump since his election loss in November to Joe Biden, who is set to be inaugurated as president middday Wednesday.

In December, Trump pardoned a rogue’s gallery of felons connected to him, including his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Republican political operative and longtime Trump friend Roger Stone, his daughter Ivanka’s father-in-law Charles Kushner, and former campaign advisor George Papadopoulos.

Others granted pardons by Trump last month were four former Blackwater USA guards convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007, disgraced ex-GOP congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and Philips Esformes, a Florida health-care facility owner convicted of what prosecutors have said was the biggest health-care fraud ever charged by the Department of Justice.

Presidential pardons only apply to convictions for federal crimes. Presidents do not have the power to pardon people for state crimes.

Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, currently is the target of a criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office.

The probe, which originally was focused on how the company accounted for hush money payments paid to two women who claim they had sex with Trump — who denies their allegations — since has expand to include questions of how the Trump Organization valued real estate assets.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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How much are Disney’s cruises to Antarctica and Galapagos Islands?

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