FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Latvia violated European Union law by barring from office its central bank governor, who is also a European Central Bank policymaker, the advocate general of the European Court of Justice argued on Wednesday.
Ilmars Rimsevics was suspended earlier this year on charges of corruption, leaving Latvia without a vote at ECB policy meetings and challenging a key plank of central bank independence.
Advocate General Juliane Kokott said Latvia had failed to provide evidence of corruption — which Rimsevics denies — and urged the court to find Latvia in violation of EU statutes.
“Although the documents contain a description of the acts allegedly committed by Mr Rimsevics, they do not contain any factual evidence capable of establishing that those acts did in fact take place,” the court said in a statement.
“There is therefore no evidence before the Court that would allow it to ascertain whether the allegations made against Mr Rimsevics are well founded,” it added.
However, the advocate made no mention of reinstating Rimsevics, possibly leaving the issue to the court, which is expected to deliver a verdict in the coming months.
Although the advocate’s opinions are not binding, the court generally follows them and it also has a track record of siding with the ECB, which brought the case along with Rimsevics.
In a case without precedent for the ECB, Rimsevics was detained in February on accusations of soliciting a bribe and was barred by Latvian authorities from working as governor.
Latvia argued that Rimsevics was not formally removed from office, and thus there was no violation, but even that was rejected by the advocate, who said that the Latvian measures constituted being relieved from office.
The ECB declined to comment. Latvian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Hugh Lawson