US gives Latvia another money-laundering message

Take note – story published 8 years and 2 months ago

Money laundering by Latvia's boutique banks - until recent months treated as a taboo subject by many officials - was top of the agenda at a meeting on February 26 between Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and Under Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Adam Szubin.

The meeting - to discuss Latvia's hoped-for accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - was just the latest in a series of clear messages handed to Latvia by the US demanding action on money laundering.

"Adam Szubin complimented Latvia’s progress till now while accenting the necessity of implementing essential reforms in accordance with OECD guidelines. Under Secretary Szubin also emphasized the necessity of the enhancement of banking supervision and increasing capacity in this regard," a statement by the Latvian Foreign Ministry said.

"During the meeting, the ability to fight money laundering was discussed, with special attention on strengthening supervision and inspections of banks focused on non-resident services.

"Both officials agreed that the fight against money laundering is not just a question to pay attention to while Latvia is engaged in the OECD accession process, but instead a long-term task, and one which is directly connected with national security," the statement said.

Concerns about money laundering in Latvia's substantial boutique banking sector have been raised for years, with allegations that billions of dollars of funny money mainly from Russia and former CIS countries have passed through Riga as part of a giant financial laundromat.

Foe years officials routinely dismissed media reports on the subject as unjustified scaremongering but now, with other OECD members less than fully convinced about the wisdom of admitting a country about whom there are such serious reputational concerns, now officials are scrabbling to demonstrate just how much effort they put into the fight against organized crime and money laundering.

Coincidentally from 26-27 February, representatives of the OECD were in Riga to discuss progress with respect to Latvia’s accession process. The OECD delegation was headed by Nicola Bonucci, the OECD’s Director for Legal Affairs.

Bonucci said Latvia must show further progress in the upcoming weeks in the fight against bribery and corruption in international business transactions as well as in the corporate governance of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) if it was to conclude OECD accession discussions in 2016.

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