Latvian government tries to spread the word on shell company ban

Take note – story published 6 years and 1 month ago

Latvia's government on March 24 tried to convince the world it is serious about cleaning up its banking sector with the release of an English-subtitled video to YouTube.

The video is of a press conference that took place March 20 following a meeting of the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, financial regulator and banking association. What is unusual is that the video has been released with English captions and subtitles, even though the press conference itself was conducted in Latvian.

That such a move has been taken is a clear indication that officials are trying to convince the world they are serious about putting their house in order - and at breakneck speed.

Finance and banking sector figures LSM spoke to at an event March 23 all pointed to the release of a report by MONEYVAL later this year as a litmus test for the industry. A favorable report would boost confidence in the sector, an unfavorable one could see Latvia put on a ''gray list'' alongside acknowledged money-laundering countries that would have huge repercussions and would make it extremely difficult for Latvian banks to do any international business at all. 

But in order to get a positive report, a cleaned-up system will need to be in place before it it writen - meaning there is a matter of weeks, or at most a couple of months, to do so.

And it is not just the non-resident banks themselves that have sullied Latvia's international reputation over the last decade. Frequently acting in concert with them were Latvia-linked business agencies that specialized in setting up shell companies in foreign jurisdictions, often using Latvian proxy directors - in order to make money-laundering easier. Names of these Latvian directors of hundreds of shell comapnies, such as Inta Bilder, Stan Gorin and Eriks Vanagels have become notorious among investigative journalists looking into offshoring scams as they crop up time and time again.

There are numerous examples, but HERE is a typical case which, ironically, even involves the Council of Europe - the same body that oversees MONEYVAL. 

Another case which certainly came to the attention of U.S. law enforcement concerned a Russian nuclear executive laundering money via Latvia and other jurisdictions using a Latvian shell company.

Another indication of the extent to which shell companies were being used in Latvia came with the release of the Panama Papers which included more than 15,000 entries linked to Latvia, either directly or indirectly. According to Latvia's financial regulator, there are 26,000 shell company accounts in Latvian banks.

It was action by the U.S. authorities last month against Latvia's ABLV bank that prompted the frenzy of activity ever since. In a matter of weeks ABLV has disappeared from the banking scene and the rest of the banks in the non-resident sector have been ordered to find new business models.

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