U.S. Treasury "embeds" advisor in Latvian Finance Ministry

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On Thursday, September 24, Latvia's Minister for Finance Jānis Reirs, the Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit Ilze Znotiņa and the U.S. Ambassador to Latvia John L. Carwile signed the Terms of Reference between the Republic of Latvia and the US Department of Treasury, prescribing the provision of technical assistance of the U.S. Department of Treasury in the field of anti-money laundering and countering terrorism and proliferation.

At the signing, Reirs said: "We have successfully completed significant reforms within the scope of capital repairs during the previous years and we are fully committed to ensuring high level of compliance in Latvia also henceforth. At the same time, it is currently crucial to continue enhancing and, especially, to manage risk so as to be able to effectively combat crime and mitigate risks, on the one hand, and concurrently not to encumber the business opportunities for good faith enterprises and investors, on the other hand. Significantly, in all the meetings with responsible high officials we have shared the opinion that risks should be managed professionally instead of avoiding them. It is of outmost importance to gain this experience to manage the risks as effectively as possible.”

For his part, Ambassador Carwile said:

"This agreement to embed a U.S. Department of Treasury advisor with the Ministry of Finance strengthens our collaboration in the fight against money laundering and conveys our steadfast commitment to rooting out the serious financial crimes that threaten our economies, stability, and common security."

Within the scope of the project, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Technical Assistance will ensure a full-time expert in Latvia "for provision of qualified support to institutions involved in anti-money laundering, attracting also additional experts from the U.S. institutions, based on the needs of the relevant authorities."

In the two years since the U.S. Treasury unilaterally blacklisted Latvia's high-flying ABLV bank for alleged money-laundering, leading directly to the bank's collapse, Latvia has made strenuous efforts to reform its financial institutions to shed the country's decade-long image as a global money-laundering hub. 

However, on the same day the agreement was inked, Latvia's deputy prime minister and Defence Minister, Artis Pabriks, repeated comments he made earlier in the week suggesting the current measures in place to stop banks indulging in their previous business models based upon dirty cash from the east may have gone too far.

Pabriks was presenting a new national defense concept to Saeima but took the opportunity to complain that many legitimate businesses, including American ones, were finding it impossible to open bank acounts and access financial services in Latvia and consequently were finding it impossible to participate in defense procurement and other more general commercial activities.

"Just because there have been black sheep among us does not mean that we have to kill the whole Latvian economy, all Latvian business, that Latvia 's exports and investment must be stopped," Pabriks said.

"Who will be able to operate if their accounts are frozen, if they are open at all? And this is one of the problems facing our defense industry, which needs, among other things, investors from our own allies, the European Union, NATO, the United States, and who go to the banks and for some reason are told they can't open an account here. We have come to a completely nonsensical situation!" Pabriks said.

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