Jurģis Liepnieks

Clearly, today we cannot know the answer to this question – all we can do is consider possible versions.

There are many feasible scenarios, from his private life (possible hit for hire by the jealous spouse of a woman who had allegedly had a romantic relationship with Bunkus) to multiple entrepreneurs, foreign as well as local, who were dissatisfied by the liquidation of Trasta komercbanka, pursuing revenge for his failure to satisfy all claimants. People with surnames well known in some Trans-Caucasian countries are even mentioned as seeking such revenge on him.

For a short while another alternative was considered – scores being settled by local groups of insolvency administrators. There is no factual evidence of Bunkus’ mythical lovers and their super-jealous husbands or any evil Transcaucasians. I enquired about the latter with some very influential representatives from the region who would have been the first points of contact for locals seeking assistance with their problems. They reject this version and are certainly credible in matters of such importance.

All this makes me think that all those lovers and Caucasians were just smokescreens crafted as part of a disinformation operation that forms part of a professional murder of this calibre. I met with Bunkus’ family members. They rejected these versions outright after getting acquainted with the information available to them.

All this leads us to the version rejected by “Nekā personīga” on 28 October.

Before I explain this further, I should mention one separate fact that I believe noteworthy. Many experts with whom I’ve discussed the murder agree on one thing – Mārtiņš Bunkus was murdered in a very demonstrative manner. In broad daylight, several metres from the active flower market, and so close to the main building of the State Police that coming any closer would have required access to its inner yard. Multiple shots fired from a Kalashnikov rifle at a driving target, with great precision – and the murderers vanished without a trace – the police has no access to clues of any kind: no suspect sketches, no DNA, no hints as to the vehicle used by the criminals to leave the crime scene and ultimately Latvia, after burning down the one they had used to commit the murder. The people who commissioned the murder and those who performed it had made no attempt to disguise the murder as a robbery attempt, or some unfortunate night-time conflict resulting in a stabbing or anything like that; at the same time, they did not take the easy way of selecting some remote time or location. They demonstratively took the risk of encountering police vehicles or non-uniformed police officers nearby – a very real possibility given that the State Police main building and adjacent structures employ around half a thousand police. Not to mention the number of police officers accessing the State Police buildings along nearby streets.

Experts agree that the murder of Mārtiņš Bunkus was committed this way with the intent of sending a message about the means available to the organisers and executors, about how easily they can murder someone like this, right under the noses of the Latvian police, and how far they are willing to go to achieve their goals. The question is – who was the intended recipient of their message? What need could there have been for sending a message like this? Did they need to convince or intimidate someone? Who could even understand the context of their message? Just as importantly, what actions should the intended recipient stop – or undertake?

The information gathered by the “Nekā personīga” broadcast clearly indicates that all of Mārtiņš Bunkus’ effort in the months preceding his death had been spent pursuing one thing – preventing the self-liquidation of the bank as lobbied by ABLV Bank shareholders, and instead having it liquidated by external specialists. As we know now, Mārtiņš Bunkus had been actively involved in communication to representatives of the U.S. government in order to prevent the self-liquidation. He is known to have contacted representatives of the U.S. Embassy, visited Washington D.C., and hired a prominent U.S. lobbyist.

From the standpoint of Bunkus’ interests, contacting representatives of U.S. government is understandable: the U.S. disclosed the true nature of ABLV’s business to the world, and it was the U.S. that imposed sanctions upon this bank by declaring ABLV to be a threat; the bank’s collapse was a direct consequence of the FinCEN report.

It was completely logical to assume that having people who had made money laundering the core of the ABLV Bank’s business model (“FinCEN has reasonable grounds to believe that ABLV executives, shareholders, and employees have institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices”) to clean up the results of its activities and conceal the evidence after the bank’s operation was suspended would be unacceptable; the liquidation should be entrusted to someone else. For example, the international team of liquidators proposed by Mārtiņš Bunkus.

Considering that responsible institutions in Latvia entertained the idea of entrusting the money launderers themselves with organising the liquidation process at the bank, Bunkus was seeking contact with representatives of the U.S. Administration in order to direct attention to this matter and garner support for the idea behind an international team of liquidators.

This was his fatal mistake. Someone was really scared that Mārtiņš Bunkus’ quest could be successful – that ABLV’s liquidation by the money launderers themselves would be rejected.

There is no doubt that the matter could have ultimately been decided either way. Lobbying and pressure on decision-makers involved politicians, former and current oligarchs, and various local fixers. Money was obviously no issue. On the other hand, there was counterpressure from U.S. lobbyists hired by Bunkus; official U.S. representatives may also have put in a word or two. A decision needed to be made.

Infamous gangster Al Capone is rumoured to have said – you get a lot more from a kind word and a gun than from a kind word alone. This is a fundamental fact of life that any psychologist will confirm holds true. The greater the fork between positive and negative motivators, the easier it is for someone to make a decision. If you have the option of taking a bribe of two million or a gunshot wound to the knee, you will take the bribe without thinking twice. Someone evidently decided that certain Latvian officials need to make the right decision, and sent a clear message to avoid any misunderstandings regarding the intentions, drive, and resourcefulness of the stakeholders.

Thirteen days after Mārtiņš Bunkus was murdered – technically the quickest period of time during which a decision could have been prepared – the ABLV shareholders received the favourable decision: they could proceed with self-liquidation.

Clearly, this is just one version of the events. But to be frank, I get a sinking feeling from how dreadfully credible it sounds.


Author: Jurģis Liepnieks

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