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Latvian central bank boss questioned overnight, given "detained status"

Central bank governor Ilmārs Rimšēvičs was questioned for several hours overnight by anti-corruption officers following the dramatic news that his office and one of his several private properties had been searched by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB).

LTV cameras spotted Rimšēvičs arriving at the KNAB HQ along with his lawyer. He gave no comment to reporters gathered at the gates of the compound in Riga before entering the building.

A slight air of absurdity and surreality to some aspects of the proceedings was not diminished when one of the cars entering and leaving the compound displayed less than expert parking skills.

The governor remained inside the building for around eight hours before leaving in a KNAB vehicle, accompanied by several other people, in the early hours of the morning, again without giving any word to the shivering reporters at the gates and with no hint as to his destination.

It has been a week of sensation in Latvia's financial industry, first with the U.S. Treasury accusing ABLV bank of being a massive money laundering operation and then with news of the raids on Rimšēvičs' property and his late-night interrogation.

As a result, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis has called an extraordinary meeting of the National Security Meeting to discuss "the situation in Latvia's banking sector."

Vejonis convened a similar meeting a few months ago to discuss the so-called "oligarch conversations" scandal, though it generated few concrete results.  

Economics minister Arvils Ašeradens told Latvian Radio February 18 that the developments posed a serious risk to Latvia's international reputation and that Rimšēvičs should consider his position as a result, particularly in light of the fact that he is on the governing council of the European Central Bank.

Lunchtime February 18 Prime Minister Maris Kučinskis broke his silence on the revelations saying:

"At the moment, neither myself nor any other official have any reason to interfere in the work of KNAB. The institution works professionally and accurately. As soon as the KNAB leadership sees it as possible to provide information to the public about the progress of the investigation, it will not hesitate to do so."

He also confirmed that Rimšēvičs currently had "detained status" while investigations, but said the fact should not have any effect on the operations of the central bank or the wider financial sector.

"There are no signs of a threat to the financial system," Kučinskis said, though he added that an extraordinary Cabinet meeting will be convened on Monday, February 19th to discuss the matter.

The central bank itself issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying it would carry on as normal.

"At present, members of the Board of the Bank of Latvia ensure the smooth operation of the Central Bank, including in cooperation and consulting the Government, the Financial and Capital Market Commission, the Ministry of Finance, the European Central Bank and international partners," the central bank said.

"We would like to emphasize that the fulfillment of the Bank of Latvia's tasks is not affected, on Monday the national bank will resume the operations of a usual working day."

Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola called a press conference for Sunday afternoon to speak about the matter, and about recent accusations from the U.S. Treasury concerning Latvia's ABLV bank - though no overt link between the ABLV and Rimšēvics cases was mentioned.

However, she did suggest it would be appropriate for the governor to stand down from his position "at least while the case continues."

while KNAB and the state police have called a joint press conference for Monday afternoon.

This story will be updated accordingly.

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