Interests described in the “Nekā personīga” broadcast indicate that Mārtiņš Bunkus’ actions preceding death had been an active nuisance to the interests of ABLV shareholders. One of them – Oļegs Fiļs – is the subject of several claims submitted to the police by his former wife Santa Bernal and her father, who claims that his daughter is being persecuted and feels threatened. Fearful for her safety, Santa Bernal was forced to leave Latvia, accompanied by bodyguards. So far, the police have been sluggish in investigating the activities of money-launderers fingered by American authorities.
Mārtiņš Bunkus had spent three months directly preceding the tragic event utilising every means available to him in order to become a liquidator of ABLV Bank. He met with U.S. diplomats and lobbyists, invested considerable funds and even established an international team of liquidators, according to “Nekā Personīga”.
Over the sixteen years of practice as an attorney, Bunkus had had experience with 70 insolvency cases, most notable among them being the liquidation of “Trasta komercbanka”, which recently netted him considerable profits. Early this year, Latvia’s third largest bank was on the brink of liquidation. On 13 February, America’s FinCEN announced that ABLV was being accused of systemic money laundering, corruption and violation of sanctions against North Korea, which meant it should be barred from the U.S. financial system. Briefly following the report, ABLV was forced to discontinue its operations. The banking regulator needed to decide whether ABLV would self-liquidate (with bank-appointed liquidators handling the process) or whether the 2-billion portfolio of ABLV would be liquidated and partitioned by independent professionals. “Nekā personīga” has received access to materials indicating that, for the last three months of his life, Mārtiņš Bunkus had been investing considerable funds and seeking the influence of U.S. diplomats and lobbyists in order to get appointed as the liquidator of ABLV. On 27 February, Bunkus flew to Washington, meeting at the Jefferson Hotel with White House representative and former U.S. Administration official David Merkle. In George Bush’s cabinet, he was one of the most highly paid staffers, having held high posts at the State Treasury and the National Security Council. Because he handled Eurasian and European international relations, he often spoke out on matters regarding Russia. He did the same speaking at the Baltic Forum in Riga a year ago. Since his U.S. Administration employment, Merkle has been providing lobbying services; Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs has been among his clients. Last December, Merkle held an official dinner for Ušakovs, dubbed a central figure in Latvian politics, and suggested his colleague, a political strategist, to the Harmony Party for its parliamentary election campaign. “Nekā personīga” unofficially found out that Bunkus had hired Merkle in order to secure support among U.S. authorities for Bunkus becoming a liquidator of ABLV Bank. For this work, Bunkus rewarded Merkle with tens of thousands of dollars. Merkle visited Riga from 20 till 24 March this year, to discuss what had already been accomplished. The two men had met in both Washington and Riga, and maintained very active correspondence.
11 April 2018 15.51
[email protected]: “Dear David! Referring to our talk on Saturday, and our discussion earlier, I would like to formulate a work assignment as follows: 1) Take every action available in order to prevent self-liquidation. Like we discussed, liquidation should be performed by external, independent liquidators unrelated to the bank’s shareholders. The shareholders will implement self-liquidation to benefit themselves, concealing any illegal activities. They will not cooperate with official supervisory bodies, acting solely in the interest of themselves and their clique of creditors. Such a situation is not acceptable, it is illegal in terms of liquidation principles. 2) (..) We must ensure that the liquidators are professional, fair, and loyal to the Latvian state and its allies. These liquidators could cooperate with relevant state institutions. The choice of liquidators falls within the exclusive competence of the Financial and Capital Markets Commission (FKTK). It is therefore of utmost importance for the FKTK to know which liquidators are fair and trustworthy. Thus, the FKTK must hear from FinCEN or some other authoritative institution about the possible liquidator candidates for the relevant credit institution. This would be a way to maintain the financial industry regulation pathway that Latvia, FinCEN and FKTK are taking together.
Can these goals be achieved? I’d like to hear your opinion and action plan for accomplishing them. I will wait for your e-mail so we can set up a teleconference.”
Thursday, 12 April 2018 17.36
No: [email protected]
“Greetings, MB, thank you for the e-mail. I hear you loud and clear and am already working in this direction in Riga as well as Washington. I got you.”
A month and a half had passed since ABLV collapsed. In May, FKTK was still going slow with the final decision. From the e-mail correspondence, it is evident that Bunkus was receiving secret information: FKTK was leaning towards ABLV self-liquidation contrary to Bunkus’ plans. The e-mail mentions another bank whose status was evidently known to a narrow group of people only.
9 May 2018, 1.47
“Dear David, how are you doing? I have become aware that AB (ABLV – ed.) will self-liquidate and the Latvian government will be bailing out Rietumu banka. It appears things are not going as they should. Can we talk tomorrow at 16.30 in the afternoon, Latvian time, or same time Friday?”
Thursday, 17 May 2018 16.06
“MB, I’m sorry I missed the call opportunity. Do you prefer a phone call or can we talk when I’m in Riga? I had a meeting to discuss in Washington. I have evaluated the document and will pass it on.
Please let me know about potential times when we could contact, or let’s meet late May/early June in Riga, if you’re there at the time.”
The document discussed in the correspondence was compiled on 26 April. It details an international team managed by Bunkus for the liquidation proceedings of some bank, possibly being expected in the future. Alongside Bunkus, the team would employ another law office, “Ellex Kļaviņš” with its attorneys Raimonds Slaidiņš and Filips Kļaviņš, and the international audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The document mentions that he has agreed with them ahead of time. This week, the law office noted that no such agreement had been signed; the audit firm confirmed that cooperation plans did exist.
“In March 2018, PwC Legal was approached by one of the candidates for the position of liquidator, put forward by the Council of Attorneys at Law of Latvia and suggested by FKTK. He wanted to find out the capabilities and experience of PWC in implementing similar liquidation projects worldwide. Because our international team includes thousands of specialists that have resolved similar matters for the financial sectors of various countries worldwide, PwC confirmed that, from a resources standpoint, we would be capable of applying independent global best practice to the credit institution liquidation procedure, with transfer of knowledge to the case of ABLV.”
“Nekā personīga” is aware that Bunkus has met with employees of the U.S. Embassy in Riga to discuss the liquidation of ABLV. On 13 March, the embassy’s economic advisor Dan Rittenouse was seen near Bunkus’ law office in the Quiet Centre; on 4 April , they met at “Index café” near the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. Embassy in Riga said it would not comment on the content of diplomatic meetings, and can neither confirm nor deny that a specific meeting took place. “Nekā personīga” knows that some of the talks also included the embassy’s vice chancellor James Snoddy and second secretary Kevin Powers.
The police do not disclose whether the investigators are considering these processes. 13 days after Bunkus was shot in his car on a weekday morning, FKTK adopted a decision for the self-liquidation of ABLV – the scenario most favourable for the bank’s shareholders.
After the lawyer’s death, Ernests Bernis noted that Bunkus could not have been appointed ABLV liquidator because he had been a customer of the bank. “Nekā personīga” knows that Bunkus had a safe rented at the bank, which stood empty.
Andrejs Grišins, State Police Central Criminal Police Department Chief (21 October 2018):
That this man visited the United States is no secret in certain circles, and therefore no secret to us. (Nekā Personīga [NP]: However, this indicates serious preparations for bank liquidation, specific agreements and arrangements.) We know this, and like I said, we have several more and less feasible versions. (NP: Have police interrogated ABLV shareholders Fiļs and Bernis?) Do you mean myself personally? (NP: The police.) I will withhold comment. (NP: You believed it necessary to interrogate Bunkus’ girlfriends and their former husbands, but not Bank shareholders?) I will not comment on who was interrogated for this case. (NP: Is that a yes or a no?) The investigators interrogate people when they believe it is time to ask specific questions.
The correspondence between Bunkus and Merkle is available to the police. The police have not asked the FBI for assistance with interrogating a former high-ranking U.S. official.
Prosecutor General Ēriks Kalnmeiers:
It is not easy to solve crimes like this, but I have no doubt in our police force being able to do it. Certainly, obtaining and verifying evidence with due process is of great importance; to a certain extent, so is luck. Luck helps often. (NP: How many times in five months did you, as the prosecutor general, visit one of these five countries to request speedy assistance?) This format does not apply to any crime – a prosecutor general does not simply travel abroad and request faster execution. If necessary, this is made in accordance with the law; the party that initiated the case has not contacted me in this regard.
We failed to secure a phone call with Merkle. He initially denied having provided services to Bunkus, then doubted that the caller had been a journalist. Once questions were sent in writing, Merkle sent a terse reply.
From: [email protected]
“My work was devoted to making the banking system in Latvia more transparent. Law enforcement authorities have not asked me any questions, and I am not anticipating any. His (Bunkus’) death is a tragedy”.
After Mārtiņš Bunkus’ murder, the U.S. Embassy came forth offering its technical expertise to our law enforcement institutions. No other announcements were made. TV3 has access to information indicating that the audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers chosen by Bunkus for his team is currently involved in the ABLV self-liquidation proceedings.
The company confirmed that the auditor is currently providing support in the liquidation of the bank as an independent advisor to FKTK.