February 22, 2018 / 11:57 AM / a month ago

Troubled Latvian bank faces ECB deadline to avoid closure

RIGA (Reuters) - The European Central Bank has set a deadline of Friday for Latvia’s third-largest bank to plug a financing hole, the country’s finance minister said, as the Baltic state faced its worst financial difficulties in almost a decade.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of the ABLV Bank is pictured in Riga, Latvia February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Earlier, ABLV said it had asked for a 480 million euro ($591 million) emergency loan from the country’s central bank as part of efforts to reopen for business after being forced to halt all payments in the face of money laundering accusations.

The request for credit comes amid frantic efforts by ABLV’s management to keep the bank afloat after U.S. authorities singled it out for money laundering and moved to block it from doing financial deals in dollars.

ABLV has denied any such wrongdoing.

“We want to give an opportunity ... for the bank to ensure its short-term liquidity, so that it can continue operating,” the Baltic state’s finance minister, Dana Reizniece-Ozola, told a news website, Delfi.lv.

The ECB has imposed a moratorium stopping savers withdrawing their funds or making payments.

It declined to comment about the deadline.

In an interview with Reuters, a senior ABLV executive appealed for the group to be spared closure.

“We believe that the bank has a future, on the basis of a substantially reduced business,” Vadims Reinfelds, deputy chief executive, said.

“What we are looking for here is a medium term or even longer term solution. If that is not possible, then resolution is the alternative,” he said, referring to a possible winding down.

“The business can be restructured without resolution,” Reinfelds said, adding the bank was solvent.

He warned the bank was “systemic” - a reference to its significance for the financial system and an indication that its problems could spill over to affect others.

The finance minister, however, played down such concerns.

The crisis at ABLV comes alongside a separate police investigation into whether the head of Latvia’s central bank took a bribe of more than 100,000 euros.

Ilmars Rimsevics has dismissed the allegations and said he is the victim of a smear campaign, while the Ministry of Defense has suggested that disinformation may be to blame.

The ministry did not say who was behind this but drew parallels with campaigns before the U.S. elections in 2016. Russia has denied it was behind those campaigns and says it does not meddle in elections in the West.

The episode has cast a shadow over Latvia, which belongs to the euro zone and whose top officials hold influential posts both at the European Commission and European Central Bank.

Experts have said the events raise questions about the ECB, which is responsible for supervision of ABLV and other banks around the euro zone. The ECB has said it is not its responsibility to police money laundering.

Latvia was one of the hardest hit countries in the global financial crisis, falling into recession as the government sought an international bailout, nationalized Parex Bank and made spending cuts amid a wave of emigration.

Reporting by John O'Donnell and Gederts Gelzis; Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter

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