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Ex-Trump aide lobbies for Latvian bank accused of laundering Russian money

A Latvian bank caught in the cross-hairs of the US Treasury Department has hired a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump as its executives prepare for life after liquidation.

ABLV Bank AS in Liquidation hired Mercury Public Affairs to conduct “Treasury outreach” for the bank effective May 15. Bryan Lanza, a former aide to Trump during the 2016 campaign and transition, is the only registered lobbyist on the account.

The registration comes as the bank is wrapping up a years-long liquidation process. This week, its bonds were removed from the Nasdaq Riga index.

Lanza was already registered to lobby for the bank’s former chairman and major stakeholder, Ernests Bernis, via a contract with Latvian firm ASG Resolution Capital. Mercury has reported $1.9 million in payments from Bernis since being hired in May 2019. Also registered to lobby for Bernis are Rob Smith and Graham Haile, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

ABLV did not respond to a request for comment about the new contract. Lanza declined to comment on the record.

Trouble for what had been Latvia’s third-largest lender began in February 2018 when the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) named it an “institution of primary money laundering concern.” The designation followed years of allegations that the bank helped launder money from Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Treasury also accused the bank of conducting illicit transactions for parties connected to UN-designated entities, including some involved in North Korea‚Äôs procurement or export of ballistic missiles.

The designation launched a sanctions process that would have prohibited ABLV from opening or maintaining a correspondent account in the United States. To prevent a disorderly collapse amid a bank run from panicked depositors, Latvian regulators froze the bank’s payments less than a week later and approved its plans to self-liquidate soon after.

Even as it bowed to the pressure of threatened US sanctions, however, the bank protested the charges against it.

“ABLV does not dispute that, for much of its history, its business model involved relatively high-risk customers resident in high-risk jurisdictions,” the bank’s lawyer at WilmerHale, former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and CIA deputy director David Cohen, wrote in an April 2018 letter to FinCEN director Kenneth Blanco. “But at the time of FinCEN’ s notice, ABLV was well on its way with a sustained and well-resourced effort to lower its risk profile by transforming its customer base away from higher-risk non-resident clients, pivoting to lower risk products, and enhancing its compliance program and practices.”

The bank has since been cooperating with authorities, include a June 13 search of 45 bank-related addresses by some 300 law-enforcement officials.

“These proceedings were carried out in the course of the criminal action initiated several years ago,” the bank said in a June 15 press statement, “which is in no way related to our current operation.”