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Two countries, two murders that deserve answers

Daphne Caruana Galizia + Martins Bunkus
Murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and lawyer Martins Bunkus killed in Latvia.

Guest commentary by John Christmas, an exiled whistleblower living in Malta who revealed information on Parex Bank in Latvia.

MEP David Casa testified before the public inquiry into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination in late July saying Dubai had offered assistance in the investigation on 17 Black, casting doubt on what the former Head of the Economic Crimes Unit Ian Abdilla had told the court.

A month earlier, 300 Latvian police officers raided ABLV Bank in Latvia to investigate a payment made by ABLV to 17 Black of $1.4 million with a possible link to Azerbaijan. That must mean Latvia is also giving full assistance. Or is it?

I gave details of fraud at ABLV’s predecessor – Parex Bank – to the Latvian authorities in 2005. They refused to investigate even though it was the largest fraud in national history. I was chased out of Latvia with death threats.

The Latvian State Police waited until 2010 then sent a letter to my address in Malta stating that the threats will not be investigated because the statute of limitations had expired.

I think the purpose of the letter was intimidation. It was their way of letting me know the police knew where I was living.

Parex Bank collapsed in 2008. The Latvian government made a huge loan to Parex Bank to fund the movement of deposits from Parex Bank to ABLV Bank. Most deposits were held by shell companies and originated at representative offices in Russia, Azerbaijan and other former Soviet States.

In 2009, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis invited the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to conduct due diligence on Parex Bank. The EBRD refused to communicate with me, conducted due diligence and found that everything was fine. It even demonstrated confidence by purchasing a stake.

In the following years, information emerged that half of the assets were bad, including the ones flagged in my 2005 whistleblowing, and that the EBRD investment was fake.

It was reversed in 2014 at a profit to the EBRD under the terms of a guarantee that the Latvian government had designated a State secret so any journalist that published information about the guarantee could be prosecuted. The guarantee was so secret that Dombrovskis didn’t even inform the Opposition parties in the country.

The Latvian government had spent approximately two billion euro to cover up my whistleblowing and move activity from Parex Bank to ABLV Bank, thus continuing a large scale money laundering racket for another decade.

During this time Latvia sunk into poverty and 20% to 30% of the population left the country.

Horrified yet? It gets worse.

Maria Efimova’s whistleblowing against Pilatus Bank in 2017 hit the headline of every major newspaper in Malta. In Latvia, my whistleblowing against Parex Bank in 2005 was mentioned only once in a major newspaper and was never mentioned again even though the crash of Parex Bank destroyed the national economy.

Why wouldn’t something like this be reported more widely in the media? A possible answer came in 2017 when it was discovered that the Latvian Ministry of Finance has a secret policy of paying Latvian journalists to write favourable articles.

While this was going on, Latvia was spending taxpayer money in Washington for the purpose of convincing the US Treasury not to blacklist more Latvian banks.

The Justice for Martins Bunkus Foundation has just this week revealed how ASG Resolution Capital, a company closely connected to ABLV Bank, has paid some $2 million to one of the largest lobbying groups in the US, in a bid to lessen the impact of a money laundering investigation by US authorities.

Arnis Lagzdins was the Head of Compliance at Parex Bank, so I know him. He was one of the main people who fought to cover up my whistleblowing. Next, he was the Head of Compliance at Ukio Bank of Lithuania.

In 2013, the assets of Ukio disappeared and again there were mysterious transactions with the EBRD. Ukio made international headlines when the Panama Papers revealed that Russian oligarchs were using Ukio to pay many millions to Vladimir Putin’s cellist.

So what happened next? Was Lagzdins prosecuted? No, just the opposite. The Latvian government hired Lagzdins to be the liaison for the financial regulator in Washington and sent him there with a diplomatic passport.

Another person I know who used to work for Parex was already in Washington. Her name is Sally Painter and she is a lobbyist. Her firm is called Blue Star Strategies, which has been in the news recently because it was subpoenaed in the investigation of Ukrainian firm Burisma, found to be paying $50,000 per month to the son of US presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Painter’s work in 2017 included intermediating a secret payment from Latvia to Atlantic Council fellow Anders Aslund to publish an article stating that ABLV was not involved in money laundering.

The US Treasury blacklisted ABLV in 2018 because of large scale money laundering involving Ukraine, Moldova and North Korea. It was only discovered later that the Aslund article had been commissioned.

Previously, Aslund had co-authored a book with Dombrovskis which portrayed Dombrovskis as a hero who saved Latvia from a financial crisis caused by Sweden. The book didn’t mention that what Dombrovskis actually did was cover up the looting of a Russian Mafia bank with a fake privatisation which crashed the economy. Sweden had nothing to do with it.

If we consider that ‘actions speak louder than words’, the Latvian government hasn’t been cracking down on the money launderers from ABLV but doing just the opposite – allocating enormous amounts of taxpayer money to protect them.

So can we really believe Latvia isn’t protecting ABLV anymore – the bank linked to money transfers to 17 Black which was discovered in 2017?

ABLV was blacklisted in 2018. The proposed independent administrator was killed in the same year. ABLV was then given permission to ‘self-liquidate,’ and the police waited until 2020 to raid ABLV.

The European Commission made the unbelievable decision this year to appoint Dombrovskis in charge of anti-money laundering at the European level.

I’ve made requests to authorities in Malta, including an appeal to Malta’s Governor at the EBRD – Finance Minister Edward Scicluna – two years ago, but no action has been taken.

A Latvian lawyer and a Maltese journalist have been killed for exposing money laundering and corruption on cases that are closely linked. It is not in the interest of the public in both of these countries that these scandals are swept under the carpet through lobbying efforts or political interference in investigations.

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