Current financial regulator employee managed risk at bank when violations were made

Take note – story published 5 years ago

The former management of Meridian Trade Bank could have caused losses to the bank by handing out loans for personal projects, the De facto investigative news show reported April 28. A striking detail is that the employee who was tasked to prevent such cases at the bank is now working at Latvia's finance watchdog, the Financial and Capital Markets Commission (FKTK).

In 2017 Meridian Trade Bank, a tiny bank specialized in servicing foreign customers, was fined for violations characteristic to small banks. According to De facto, the bank's management may have used it to fund other projects, for which FKTK slapped a €890,000 fine on it.

Low-interest loans for green energy investments

According to De facto, this funding was funneled to two green energy companies, namely Priekules BioEnerģija and Priekules siltumtīkli. These received €8 million in loans, with no first installment, low interest and a long repayment period.

FKTK found that both companies are linked to Meridian Trade Bank shareholder Svetlana Dzene – she was the bank's president for more than 20 years – and her husband Andris Dzenis, a council member at the bank.

There's a lot linking them to the companies, with FKTK supposing that the couple are the true beneficiaries behind the companies, even though they aren't listed among the official owners.

After the bank was fined Dzene was obliged to leave her post. Bank shareholders this year instated a new board, led by Solvita Deglava. She is known as the former manager of Reverta, an institution servicing the bad loans of the spectacularly failed Parex bank.

"Upon starting work, the [new] bank management discovered a number of deals of a possibly fraudulent nature, as well as fraudulent actions by former employees. That's why the bank has turned to the State Police Economic Crimes unit, and three criminal cases have been started," she said.

While Deglava did not reveal any details on the investigation, according to De facto one of the cases is related to the aforementioned loans. 

The State Police confirmed that there's an ongoing investigation over fraud, as well as embezzlement.

FKTK employee responsible for supervising Meridian

Over the three year period during which the loans were extended, Maija Treija was responsible for risk management at Meridian Trade Bank. This meant she was directly responsible for any suspicious loans such as those described above.

In 2015 she became an official at FKTK and now heads a department responsible for overseeing the banks' work in preventing money laundering.

FKTK head Pēters Putniņš said he knows Meridian has turned to the police and admits that Treija's time at the bank overlaps with the episodes being investigated. But there hadn't been reports of violations before she was hired. 

"At the time there was no basis to review it as there were no administrative cases or any other problems revealed at the bank. Now the events will make us check separate facts but I don't want to talk in more specific terms," he said.

Maija Treija did not want to speak to De facto, saying via the FKTK's PR department that she doesn't have access to details of the investigation, while former Meridian president Svetlana Dzene did not reply to De facto's request for comment. 

But it emerged on April 29 that Treija has now been suspended. FKTK said in a press release that it has been done to prevent any possible reputation risks. 

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