Italian cleared of bank fraud

  • 2001-10-11
  • TBT staff
RIGA - Italian citizen Paolo Baratieri di San Pietro was acquitted by a Riga court Oct. 5 on charges of fraud and forgery after opening bank accounts in Multibanka, Aizkraukles, Parex and Rietumu banks using a fake passport.

The court based its decision on the fact that the country stated as issuer of the passport, the Republic of Spanish Guinea, does not exist. There were also other significant details missing in the passport, including which institution had issued it.

According to the court, the banks are at fault for not verifying the validity of the passport San Pietro produced and for not disputing the agreements he had signed with the banks, including an overdraft agreement signed with Rietumu Banka, which was written in Russian, and therefore it could not be proven that San Pietro could have understood what it said.

Sergei Grodnikov, spokesman for Rietumu Banka, told The Baltic Times that the bank's level of security is very high.

"If we suspect someone of trying to trick us with fake identification documents, we call the police," he said. "It was discovered that he (San Pietro) was not who he was claiming to be."

After the verdict was read, prosecutor Ilona Minajeva told reporters she would likely appeal.

During court sessions she asked that San Pietro be fined 3,600 lats ($5,300), the equivalent of 60 monthly minimum wages.

San Pietro's lawyer, Maris Mezitis, argued that his client had no evil intentions and that the passport used to open the accounts should not be regarded as counterfeit since it was "issued" by a non-existing country. He blamed the staff at the different banks for not being more observant.

"It may seem unacceptable from outside," San Pietro told the court: "I have acted foolishly."

San Pietro was detained by the economics police in May together with an unidentified fellow citizen. They had, according to police, opened accounts in several Latvian banks using fictitious passports and laundered at least $3 million. Police found $250,000, passports of three different countries and registration documents of a variety of off-shore companies during a search of the men's apartments.