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Latvia's Top Banker Rejects Corruption Charges, Says Won't Resign

The governor of Bank of Latvia, Ilmars Rimsevics (file photo)

The embattled head of Latvia's central bank has denied bribery allegations against him, saying he is the victim of a smear campaign and will not step down.

"I have taken the decision not to resign," Bank of Latvia Governor Ilmars Rimsevics said on February 20. "I am not guilty."

He told reporters in Riga that he was being targeted by "some Latvian commercial banks to destroy Latvia's reputation."

Latvian officials have called on Rimsevics to step down after the country's anticorruption agency detained him over the weekend on suspicion of soliciting and receiving at least 100,000 euros ($125,000) in bribes.

Rimsevics was later released on bail without being formally charged, but Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis's office said he had been suspended pending an investigation by Latvia's anti-corruption agency.

The criminal investigation coincides with bribery allegations against Rimsevics from Norvik Banka, a Riga-based lender controlled by Grigory Guselnikov, a Russian-born British citizen.

However, Kucinskis's office said Guselnikov had provided no evidence of wrongdoing against Rimsevics despite being "repeatedly asked."

Also on February 20, Latvia's Defense Ministry said in an English-language statement that there was a "high probability that a large-scale information attack on Latvia is being organized from the outside" to damage trust in the government and influence elections set for October.

The ministry said the purported campaign was "identical in structure and execution to information operations which were observed in France, Germany, and the USA before elections" -- an apparent reference to allegations of Russian meddling in those countries.

Rimsevics has held his post since 2001 and is also a member of the European Central Bank's governing council.

Latvia is a NATO and European Union member and uses the euro as its currency.

In a tweet on February 20, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert voiced U.S. support for Latvia's anticorruption efforts.

"U.S. has full confidence Government of #Latvia will take necessary steps to uphold integrity of its banking and financial sector. U.S. supports and will continue to help Latvia realize a strong, well-regulated Latvian financial sector," Nauert said.

Based on reporting by Reuters and Bloomberg