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Latvia charges central bank chief Rimsevics with accepting a bribe

RIGA (Reuters) - Latvia’s central bank governor will face prosecution over alleged bribery after a four-month-long investigation that turned up the spotlight on the financial system of the euro zone member state.

FILE PHOTO: Latvian central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics listens during a news conference in Riga, Feb. 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

Ilmars Rimsevics, a member of the European Central Bank’s policy-making governing council, was charged with soliciting and accepting a bribe, the Latvian Prosecutor General’s office said on Thursday.

Rimsevics has denied the allegations that he accepted a bribe of at least 100,000 euros ($115,880). If convicted, he could face a prison term of up to 11 years.

“The prosecutor has issued a decision to begin prosecution against the Governor of Bank of Latvia,” a spokeswoman for the prosecutor said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

She said further details will be provided at a news briefing on Friday. A lawyer for Rimsevics was not immediately available for comment.

Latvia’s main anti-corruption body has been investigating the allegations since February. The inquiry coincided with a scandal at the country’s third biggest bank, ABLV, which was wound down after being accused by U.S. authorities of money laundering and violating sanctions against North Korea.

Rimsevics has been Latvia’s central bank governor since 2001.

He has been barred by Latvian authorities from carrying out his duties as governor pending the investigation and has not been able to participate in ECB policy meetings.

Under EU law, Rimsevics cannot be removed from office until he is convicted of a crime. The ECB has taken Latvia to Europe’s highest court over the case, arguing that by barring him from office, he has effectively been removed.

That leaves Latvia without representation in ECB decision-making processes until Rimsevics is either reinstated or convicted of a crime and replaced, or if he decides to resign.

The ECB declined to comment on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi; editing by Mark Heinrich