Twitter sparks bank collapse rumours

Martin Keene/PA

The power of social networking became truly apparent at the weekend when customers fled to withdraw funds from a Latvian bank following rumours that is was in financial crisis.

Posts on Twitter sparked fears that Swedbank was facing legal and liquidity problems in Estonia and Sweden - rumours the bank's chief executive slammed as "absurd."

More than 10,000 Latvians rushed to withdraw deposits from the country's largest bank on Sunday after rumour spread that it was in financial crisis. It is reported that Maris Mancinskis, Swedbank's chief executive slammed the rumours as "absurd" and said in a statement that the bank was functioning normally. He added that all deposit holders would have full access to their money via bank machines and branch offices.

Mancinskis told LNT television that the rumours started last week and proliferated over the weekend, culminating in Sunday's rush to bank machines. The rumours were reportedly spread through Twitter and come at a time when Latvians are particularly sensitive to fears about financial security.

The Daily Mail reports how Latvijas Krajbanka, the country's 10th largest bank, was nationalised last month after regulators discovered evidence of massive fraud allegedly carried out by the bank's former owner, Russian businessman Vladimir Antonov. As a result, customers could not access their funds for days.

This follows a crisis three years ago that saw the country's second largest bank, Parex Bank, entering technical default. The newspaper reports that the bank had to be taken over by the government, which in turn forced Latvia to appeal to international creditors and the European Union for a 7.5 billion euro bailout.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis told journalists that the rumours were spread maliciously with the intent to harm Latvia's banking system, the Baltic News Service reported.

Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said that police have launched an investigation into the source of the rumours. Spreading false rumours which threaten the stability of the banking system is a criminal offence in Latvia, with a sentence of two years in jail.

Swedbank passed the European Banking Authority's most recent stress test, the results of which were announced in July.
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