Anti-Corruption Police Arrest Latvian Central Bank Chief

Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis assured the country and Europe “there is no sign of danger,” after anti-corruption police arrested the head of the Latvian central bank Saturday.

“For now, neither I, nor any other official, has any reason to interfere with the work of the Corruption Prevention Bureau,” Kucinskis said.

Neither Kucinskis nor the police gave any reason why central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics was arrested. But a police spokeswoman said there will be an announcement “as soon as possible.”

The Latvian government plans an emergency meeting Monday.

Along with heading the Baltic nation’s central bank, Rimsevics is also one of 19 governors on the European Central Bank.

The U.S. Treasury Department has proposed sanctions against a major Latvian bank for alleged money laundering linked to North Korea’s weapons program.


Polish Embassy in Israel Vandalized After Polish PM’s Controversial Remarks

Vandals spray painted swastikas on the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talked about what he called “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust.

Israeli leaders immediately condemned his comment. The prime minister was responding to a reporter’s question about Poland’s new law punishing anyone who calls the Nazi genocide a “Polish crime.”

“Saying that our people collaborate with the Nazis is a new low,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at a conference Sunday. “We stand together, hand in hand, in this fight. We have to stand strong for the memory of our brothers and sisters murdered in the Shoah (Hebrew for the Holocaust). But today, more than ever, we must work to educate the world, even some of the leaders, about that dark time.”

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he spoke with his Polish counterpart by telephone Sunday, telling him “a comparison between the activities of Poles and the activities of Jews during the Holocaust is unfounded.”

Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, called Morawiecki’s comment some of the “very worst form of anti-Semitism and Holocaust obfuscation.”

A reporter at the Munich Security Conference Saturday asked Morawiecki if under the new law, he could be jailed for telling the story of how neighbors betrayed his mother’s family in Poland to the Nazis.

“Of course it’s not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators,”  Morawiecki replied.

He did not elaborate on who he regards as “Jewish perpetrators.” But he tweeted Sunday, “Dialogue about this most difficult history is necessary as a warning. We will conduct such dialogue with Israel.”

“The Holocaust, the genocide of Jews committed by Nazi Germans, was an extremely terrifying crime,” he further wrote. “There were also individuals who by collaborating with Nazi Germans, showed the darkest side of human nature.”

A Morawiecki spokesman said the prime minister was in no way trying to deny the Holocaust.

About 6 million Poles, half of them Jews, were murdered during World War II by Hitler and the Nazis.


US-Russia Dispute Forms Backdrop for Tense Munich Security Conference

Moscow has dismissed U.S. charges against several Russian citizens and companies for meddling in the 2016 presidential election as “blather.” Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov questioned the evidence. The charges have formed a tense backdrop to the conference, which has focused on growing threats to global security, as Henry Ridgwell reports from Munich.


US Warns of ‘Critical Time for Humanity’ at Tense Security Conference

Dozens of the world’s political and military leaders, along with thousands of politicians, journalists and security experts descend on southern Germany every year for the Munich Security Conference.

The stated aim is to bring allies and adversaries together, to put dialogue before confrontation. The venue, the historical Bayerischer Hof hotel, seems barely big enough to squeeze everyone in. Organizers say the intimacy forces people to talk.

This year, the 54th conference, there is a palpable sense the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

“This year we meet at a critical time for our nations, and indeed for all humanity,” the United States’ National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told delegates Saturday.

“We face a range of common threats. Rogue regimes that already imperil international security in the Middle East and northeast Asia,” McMaster added.

North Korea, Syria, Iran

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has featured throughout the conference. In a thinly veiled warning to China, he called on those countries that continue to offer an economic lifeline to Pyongyang to respect global sanctions.

His concerns were echoed by the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who said the international community should beware of being blinded by North Korea’s charm diplomacy during the current Winter Olympic Games in neighboring South Korea.

McMaster also took aim at Syria and Iran.

“We know that Syria and North Korea are not the only rogue states developing, using, spreading dangerous weapons. Now is the time to address serious flaws in the Iran deal and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its development and proliferation of missiles, and its support for terrorist proxies and militias that fuel destructive conflicts across the greater Middle East.”

Iran repeatedly has denied those accusations.

Washington is wary of the growing complexity of the Syrian conflict, analyst Karin von Hippel, director-general of the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said.

“Not just because of the U.S. and Turkey potentially facing each other off, but Russian troops are there, other Gulf country troops are there, the Israelis have been drawn in recently, and of course the Iranians are there. So that really is a very dangerous theater where one little mistake could escalate in really frightening ways.”


WATCH: US-Russia Dispute Forms Backdrop for Tense Munich Security Conference

Iraq recovery

Such an escalation likely would draw in Syria’s neighbors. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told delegates that the Islamic State terror group, also known as Daesh, poses an enduring threat.

“We intend this year to make it the final year for the existence of Daesh in Iraq. The task which is facing us is stabilization and reconstruction of the areas that have been occupied and destroyed by Daesh. This is a huge task at a time when our oil income has dropped drastically,” al-Abadi told the conference Saturday.

The three-day conference took an added dimension as news broke Friday of the indictments by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice against several Russian nationals and companies, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Moscow’s foreign minister dismissed the charges as “blather.”

Further Middle East tensions likely will come under the spotlight Sunday as the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, plus the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, are scheduled to address the conference.


Missing Klimt Drawing Returned to Lentos Museum in Austria

A 100-year-old drawing by one of Austria’s most celebrated artists has come out of hiding.

Gustav Klimt’s drawing, Two Reclining Figures, has resurfaced after being lost from the Lentos Museum in Linz for decades, apparently hidden in the home of a former assistant at the museum who retired in 1977.

The drawing, which shows two female figures in blissful repose among fluffy bedcovers, was found after the assistant, whose name has not been released, left directions in her will that it be returned to the museum after her death. When she died in December 2017, her personal documents included instructions on where to find the drawing. It was stashed in a closet in her home.

“We were very surprised at this discovery,” said Julius Stieber, director of culture and education for the city of Linz. “We’d received a letter, but no one expected the drawing to be returned.”

Other works missing

The drawing will now be included in a 100-year retrospective showcasing the works of Klimt, as well as Austrian painters Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser on the centenary of their deaths. All three died in 1918.

Along with the Klimt drawing, three works by Schiele went missing after the four pieces were loaned to the museum, then known as the New Gallery, in 1951 by the artist and collector Olga Jager. Her family eventually brought a lawsuit and were awarded more than $10 million for the loss of the artworks.

A spokesman for the city of Linz said there were “no serious indications” that the assistant had taken the Schiele pieces along with the Klimt.

While the Klimt drawing will be returned to the family after the exhibition ends in May — in return for a refund of that part of their settlement — the search is still on for the pieces by Schiele. Officials hope the publicity from the exhibition may help unearth the missing artworks.

A police spokesperson told the Austrian news agency APA that anyone who may have possession of a lost artwork “should ask themselves if they are handling stolen goods, and do the reasonable thing and come forward.”

Another Klimt piece

One of Klimt’s best-known works is Adele Bloch-Bauer, a 1907 portrait that became the subject of a high-profile custody battle between Austria and Austrian-American Maria Altmann, a descendant of the family who owned the painting before it was confiscated by authorities during the Nazi era. The fight was chronicled in a book and movie known as Woman in Gold.

Altmann reclaimed the work in 2006 and sold it to a collector later that year for a record $135 million. It is now on display at the Neue Gallerie in New York City.


Israel Builds Case for Europeans to Accept Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Fix’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to use the West’s pre-eminent annual security conference to argue for tougher Western action against Israel’s regional rival, Iran.

Netanyahu is scheduled to make that case in a speech to global leaders and security officials at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.

As he left for Germany on Thursday, Netanyahu said he would present proof of Iran’s involvement in a cross-border confrontation between Israel and Syria earlier this month — the most serious clash of its kind since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. He also said he would reiterate Israel’s determination to defend itself against any threat “without restriction.”

Iran has denied Israel’s assertion that an Iranian drone launched from Syria infiltrated Israeli airspace on February 10. Israel retaliated by carrying out airstrikes in Syria, triggering return fire from Syrian forces.

​Nuclear deal on agenda

Netanyahu also has joined a Trump administration campaign to press European powers to toughen the Iran nuclear deal that they and the previous Obama administration negotiated with Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an ultimatum to European powers last month, saying he would pull out of the deal unless they agreed to new limits on Iran’s nuclear and other activities by May 12.

Netanyahu backed the ultimatum. Israel fears the existing deal will enable Iran to quickly develop nuclear weapons when its limitations on Iranian uranium enrichment begin expiring in the 2020s.

Israeli leaders see a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat because of repeated calls by Iranian leaders for the destruction of the Jewish state. Tehran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.


WATCH: Israel Builds Case for Europeans to Accept Iran Nuclear Deal ‘Fix’

Israel’s ruling parliamentary coalition and main opposition party dismiss the Iranian assurances.

In an exclusive January interview with VOA’s Persian service in Jerusalem, Israeli parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein said he was working constantly to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions on the international agenda.

“We are trying not to let the world believe that in the last couple of years, everything’s already fine because a deal was signed and many important players — the United States, China, Russia and European Union — were all behind the deal,” Edelstein said. “We have to provide information, and we know for a fact what the Iranians are up to.” He said he would communicate that message to EU officials, whom he met in Brussels on Jan. 23.

Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, also speaking to VOA Persian at his home in the central Israeli town of Ra’anana, said he believed European powers were receptive to Israeli concerns.

“The Europeans don’t feel well with the fact that the Iranians continue to enhance their long-range missile capability,” Amidror said. “They also know about terror organizations that the Iranians are building around the world. So they might say, ‘OK, we think it’s very bad to change the [nuclear] agreement,’ but the circumstances might lead the Europeans to understand that there is a need to contain Iran, and the way to contain Iran is by cooperating with the U.S.” 

Iran denies supporting terror organizations, saying instead that it fights such groups in the region.

​Europe’s alternate approach

EU officials so far have shown little sign of accepting U.S. demands for changes to the nuclear deal.

In remarks to the media Jan. 11, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said concerns about Iranian missiles and increasing regional tensions were outside the scope of the nuclear deal and should be resolved in other forums.

“The unity of the international community is essential to preserve a deal that is working, that is making the world safer and that is preventing a potential nuclear arms race in the region,” Mogherini said. “And we expect all parties to continue to fully implement this agreement.”

In another VOA Persian interview in Tel Aviv, the former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, Efraim Halevy, said the EU was right to focus on preserving the nuclear deal, particularly through boosting trade ties with Iran.

“Economically, [the West should] open up areas of commerce, tourism, industry and communication [with Iran], in order to allow the Iranian public at large to benefit from the fruits of the agreement,” Halevy said.

But with U.S. officials calling the agreement a “disaster,” the Trump administration has said it is working with Britain, France and Germany to “fix” it by the May 12 deadline.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian service.