Latvia police probe targets Swedish banks

Aggressive methods employed by Swedish banks for collecting money from borrowers in Latvia are the subject of a police investigation, according to the Latvian prime minister.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis told the TT news agency authorities are looking into whether “a portion of the activities of certain Swedish banks” are so “aggressive” that they are pushing other claimants aside.

“We’re investigating certain methods when it comes to freezing companies’ accounts and taking over their deposits, quite aggressively I might add,” said Dombrovskis.

He explained that the Latvian state is one of the claimants which suffering because of the Swedish banks’ behaviour when borrowers become insolvent.

“Nearly the entire flow of money is being directed to the repayment of debts without any consideration for issues of tax payments and the like,” he said.

Dombrovskis says that there is “concern” over this sort of activity, but he doesn’t want to point out those involved because the investigation is ongoing.

According to information gathered by TT from police authorities, the accusations say that several banks have behaved in an “injurious” manner toward certain companies and that the actions may have been carried out to the benefit of other companies.

There is evidence of corruption in connection with loan collection, but according to Latvia’s financial inspection authority, FKTK, those allegations are included in the investigation.

Janis Placis, a section chief with FKTK, said that the agency has received a large number of complaints from companies that the banks have overstepped their authority.

“Most complaints have no grounds and the creditors attempt to reclaim loaned money is reasonable and logical,” he said.

The former government was also highly critical of Swedish-owned banks operating in Latvia.

It was political populism and it’s also populism now in an economic crisis, claimed a bank representative who wished to remain anonymous.

“It’s always the same time. Blame the foreigners! Blame the banks! And if you have a foreign banks there’s no doubt about who the scapegoat will be,” said the bank official.

Sweden’s major banks have been careful to comment on the Latvian police investigation.

Swedbank declined to comment at all, while SEB said that it had yet to be contacted by the Latvian police.

“Nordea is in Latvia to stay. We take care to build good relationships with our customers and decision makers. We naturally follow the rules which exist in the area,” said Nordea spokesperson Helena Östman to TT.

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