(Bloomberg) -- After a U.S. money-laundering probe rocked Latvia’s economy, sending one of its largest banks belly up, the Baltic nation’s U.S.-born leader is trying to convince Washington and business leaders that he’s cleaning up his country’s financial system for good.
In meetings this week with top investors and U.S. policy makers, including Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins vowed steps to make a clean slate and attract foreign investment.
“The signal is very clear on money laundering: We have a zero-tolerance policy in our country, and we will not tolerate it in our banking system,” Karins said in an interview Friday at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York.
The euro-area and NATO member was hit by a dirty money storm in February 2018, when the U.S. Treasury accused Latvia’s third-biggest bank of money-laundering and its central bank governor was detained amid allegations of taking bribes. Now, the government says it’s determined to put an end to illicit money as it tries to avert another potential shock: being gray-listed by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval, which assesses compliance with international standards against money laundering and terror financing.
Since taking power in January, Karins has pushed through a package of legislation that includes boosting oversight of the financial sector, demanding greater information for large sums of cash and remaking the management of the nation’s banking regulator. Karins also wants to create a special court to deal with complex financial crime.
Karins said he plans to hold a competitive recruitment to find the next central bank governor after Ilmars Rimsevics, who is fighting money-laundering and bribery charges, leaves office when his term ends in December. Candidates will need banking experience, vision and leadership, Karins said.
Asked what demands U.S. officials made and whether he expects any new investigations, Karins said he hoped views in the U.S. are improving.
“The clear signal I got was that there was a very positive evaluation of the steps we were taking,” Karins said.
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