Supporters of the initiative gathered for a meeting Tuesday at which they discussed various ideas and proposals for keeping the bank under state control or at least ensuring better public transparency during its sell-off process, reported national news agency LETA.
Among the suggested ideas were the calling of a referendum, the holding of rallies, petitioning law enforcement agencies to investigate the process, or allowing Saeima to vote on the issue.
Journalist Imants Liepiņš told the assembled initiative group that there isn’t much publicly-available information about US fund Ripplewood Holdings, which Latvian Television (LTV) reported last week is mulling an exclusive confidential government offer to buy Citadele for €113m.
Liepiņš pointed out that despite the 'US' tag, Ripplewood Holdings is actually a Delaware-based offshore company that doesn’t reveal its owners, officers and actual beneficiaries.
Also appearing at the gathering was former Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) chief Normunds Vilnītis, who was removed from his position by Saeima in 2011 and is currently running for the 12th Saeima on the Latvia’s Regional Alliance ticket. Vilnītis held the view that the Citadele sell-off is an example of political corruption trying to cover itself up through a veil of confidentiality.
“This is blatant highest-level theft of state resources,” said Vilnītis, and urged the Prosecutor General’s office to investigate and determine in whose interests the deal is being pursued without any clarity regarding prices, subjects and conditions. However, he said he was not surprised by the authorities’ passivity on the issue, saying “law enforcement is waiting for the elections to know what direction they should take.”
The Citadele sell-off is a “total spit in the face to the people for what they have borne on their own backs,” said Edvarts Ratnieks, former president of the Latvian Students’ Association and currently a 12th Saeima candidate on the conservative National Alliance ticket. In his opinion, everything must be done to halt the sell-off process, since it is absurd to invest close to a billion lats into the bank only to get back around €100m. He called for a people’s referendum on the future of Citadele.
Economist and Banking College professor Ivars Brivers told the gathering he is skeptical about keeping the bank under state control, given the level of corruption in Latvia. In his view, the bank would then become a “feeder” of crooked politicians.
Saeima member Gatis Sprūds of the National Alliance told the meeting of activists that his party was being kept at an arm’s length from the decision-making process regarding Citadele despite the fact that they are part of the ruling coalition.
He said he believes the state needs to keep the bank under government control and that Saeima should in the final instance vote to approve whatever outcome is agreed upon. Sprūds concluded by expressing the NA’s willingness to cooperate with the initiative group “Openness at Citadele.”
Citadele is one of two banking entities created in 2010 from bailed-out former Parex Bank. It handles the good-assets salvaged from the aftermath of the dramatic Parex failure and is obliged by law to be sold-off by the end of 2014. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development co-owns a 25% share. The European Commission recently found no fault with Latvia's state support for the spectacular trouble-child of its 2008 national financial crisis.