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Latvian Bank Crisis Raises Troubling, Unanswered Questions About ECB

Image: Latvian Bank Crisis Raises Troubling, Unanswered Questions About ECB
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Tuesday, 20 February 2018 07:59 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The United States returns from the President’s Day holiday weekend to a rather dull economic calendar today.

There is very little to excite investors right at the moment although there is the prospect of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes of the meeting that took place on January 30-31 and that will be released tomorrow, which is certainly of interest given the change of guard at the leadership of the Federal Reserve. 

By the way, the next FOMC will take place on March 20-21 and will be associated with a summary of economic projections and a press conference by the new Fed Chair Mr. Jerome Powell and at which occasion it is expected that the Fed will have raised its Fed funds rate.

For those market observers, who have raised the probability that the Fed could raise the Fed funds rate 4 times this year, as I do, it might be helpful to take note that besides March, the FOMC meetings of June 12-13, September 25-26 and December 18-19, all will be associated with a summary of economic projections and a press conference by the Fed Chair.

Of course, the Federal Reserve can raise its interest rates whenever it considers it opportune to do so, but generally raising rates are done when there is a planned press conference that comes after the FOMC meeting.

The four gaping holes in the list of Governors of the Federal Reserve does also put more emphasis on the votes of the regional Fed Presidents, and their views can tend to be a little bit more extreme.

Besides that, over in Europe, the European Central Bank’s (ECB) issues played out largely as was expected.

It was confirmed that the Governor of the Central Bank of Latvia Mr. Ilmars Rimsevics and Latvia's representative on the European Central Bank as Mr. Ilmars Rimsevics is member of the ECB Governing Council, is being investigated for bribery.

The Governor is currently out on bail and so he will still be able to attend ECB Governing Council meetings and vote on Eurozone interest rate decisions. If charged with bribery, the Governor would have to step aside.   

In the meantime, in the Wall Street Journal we read: “The European Central Bank has frozen all payments by a Latvian bank, following U.S. accusations that the small institution laundered billions in illicit funds, including for companies connected to North Korea’s banned ballistic-missile program.”  

The bank in question is the bank ABLV, Latvia’s third-largest lender by assets, which is based in Riga but has also an office in Luxembourg and a subsidiary in the United States.

From its side, the U.S. Treasury Department had already charged last week the Latvian bank ABLV with having “institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices.”

The Treasury said the ABLV bank managed transactions for clients connected to several long-sanctioned North Korean firms. These include North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, the institution that manages Pyongyang’s foreign-currency earnings, revenue that U.S. and United Nations officials say go directly to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

ABLV’s alleged illegal activity also included funneling billions of dollars in public corruption proceeds from Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine through shell company accounts.

On Monday, Latvia’s anticorruption agency has from its side launched criminal proceedings against Latvia central-bank governor, Ilmars Rimšēvičs, on suspicion of soliciting and accepting a bribe of more than 100,000 euros or about $124,090.

As conclusion, I’d like to say that for me the fact that extortion claims were made against Latvia's central banker, Ilmars Rimsevics, who also is member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, and money laundering claims against the Latvian bank ABLV, raises troubling and unanswered questions about the European Central Bank’s (ECB) independence.

Etienne "Hans" Parisis is a bank economist who has advised investors on financial markets and international investments.

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Extortion claims against Latvia's central banker, Ilmars Rimsevics, who also is member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, and money laundering claims against the Latvian bank ABLV, raises troubling and unanswered questions about the European Central Bank’s independence.
latvian, bank, questions, ecb
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2018-59-20
Tuesday, 20 February 2018 07:59 AM
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