May 28, 2023
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THE OWNER of a bank in Latvia is facing a trial for conspiracy to murder a lawyer who had accused the lender of money laundering.

Mihails Ulmans, a beneficial owner of LPB bank, is accused of prompting the daylight murder of insolvency lawyer Mārtiņš Bunkus, who raised AML concerns about the bank with authorities. .

Bunkus reportedly became suspicious that LPB and Mego — a retailer now beneficially owned by Babenko and previously owned by Ulmans — were engaged in money laundering when he came across evidence as he was winding up another company.

He raised these concerns with Latvia’s financial crime agencies in March 2016.

Bunkus was assassinated when he was riddled with gunfire from an AK47 assault rifle in rush hour traffic on the morning of May 30 2018.

Ulmans was arrested in May 2022 along with one of his business associates, co-defendant Aleksandrs Babenko, on charges related to inciting Bunkus’s murder. The pair have been in custody since and deny the charges. Another accused, a Russian national, is accused of the shooting.

Meanwhile police reports seen by the Financial Times disclosed by Ulmans’ legal team as part of a legal action in the US, the two men were alleged to have promised €100,000 to the person who arranged the murder and €200,000 to the killer.

Another attempt was made on Bunkus’s life in September 2016, when a gunman on a motorcycle tried to shoot him but the gun jammed.

In 2018, officials fined LPB €2.2mn after finding that the lender had not resolved regulatory problems identified by inspectors in 2016.

LPB bank denied any involvement in money laundering, and noted that despite “numerous inspections and penalties, the [Financial and Capital Market Commission] has not identified a single money laundering case”.

The bank added that “Ulmans does not hold any position within our bank and therefore, he does not have any kind of influence on our day-to-day operations.”

The trial meanwhile is set to refocus attention on Latvia’s banks, which at one stage faced ‘grey listing’ from FATF because of its lack of AML procedures.

The country subsequently introduced sweeping reforms and strengthened its FIU into one of the EU’s strongest to prevent its banks being an entry point into the EU for Russian dirty money.

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