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ECB official fighting graft charges finally gets day in court

Riga, Latvia

ALMOST two years after Latvia's central-bank governor was detained in a bribery probe, he's getting the chance to prove his innocence in the courtroom.

Ilmars Rimsevics, who also sits on the European Central Bank's policy-setting panel, is attending his first hearing on Monday. He denies the charges against him, which carry a prison term of more than 10 years.

Rimsevics' case sent shock waves through the Baltic nation, a member of the European Union and the euro region.

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It came amid a spate of negative news that included the closing of the country's No 3 bank following money-laundering accusations from the US Treasury.

The country is trying to rebuild its reputation, installing new regulators and imposing tougher rules. AS PNB Banka, whose owner had publicly accused Rimsevics of wrongdoing, was closed in September after the ECB said it was "failing or likely to fail".

Prosecutors say Rimsevics accepted 250,000 euros (S$378,746) and a trip to Kamchatka in Russia from a bank that was closed in 2016 for handling illicit cash. Rimsevics says a group of commercial lenders is out to get him and orchestrated the case against him.

Despite his troubles, Rimsevics has managed to continue working. Initially suspended as governor in Latvia, the European Court of Justice granted a reprieve in February after prosecutors refused to hand over their evidence while he was still testifying.

But politicians have distanced themselves from him. Parties are meeting with potential replacements for when his term expires in December.

Judges have also appeared less than keen to take on the case. Several courts passed on it, citing jurisdictional issues, while a Riga judge unexpectedly quit the profession when it was given to her. It eventually landed at a district court in the seaside town of Jurmala.

Rimsevics's fate is unlikely to be settled quickly, however, with high-profile cases often becoming bogged down in Latvia's legal system.

A corruption trial into one of the country's most powerful politicians has dragged on for more than a decade. BLOOMBERG