The reputation of the European Central Bank is under the spotlight after the detention of one its policymakers over bribery allegation.
Ilmars Rimsevics, who represents Latvia on the ECB general council, was questioned on a charge of demanding a bribe from the country’s third largest bank, ABLV, which is being investigated in a separate money-laundering inquiry.
Jekabs Straume, the head of Latvia’s anti-corruption authority, denied the two cases were linked, and said Rimsevic’s arrest was about “demanding a bribe of no less than €100,000”.
The case against the ABLV stems from claims by the US authorities that the bank has became a haven for money launderers and funnelled funds to North Korea in breach of international sanctions.
Rimsevics was held overnight on Saturday while officials raided his offices and home. According to local TV reports, he emerged from questioning on Sunday to deny the allegations, which his lawyer said were only put to him verbally.
Dana Reizniece-Ozola, Latvia’s finance minister, said Rimsevics “should resign from his post at least for the time of the investigation”.
Māris Kučinskis, the prime minister, said: “I can’t imagine that a governor of the Bank of Latvia detained over such a serious accusation could work.”
Raimonds Vējonis, the country’s president, called for a meeting of the national security council to discuss the situation.
Latvia joined the euro in 2014 and Rimsevics, who has presided as governor of the country’s central bank since 2001, has sat on the ECB council ever since.
The ECB, which said Rimsevics’ detention was a matter for Latvian authorities, has a duty to monitor the financial activities of eurozone member states and individual central banks.
ABLV was forced to seek emergency financial support on Monday as it came under wider scrutiny for allegedly being a conduit for illicit financial activities.
It was ordered by the ECB to stop all payments after a run on its deposits. The run was sparked by a sharp deterioration in ABLV’s liquidity position since the US Treasury accused it of allowing clients to conduct business with North Korea.
The bank has said the US accusations were based on unfounded and misleading information.