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Monday 19.02.2018 | Name days: Zane, Zuzanna
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BNN summary of the week: final report on Oligarchs case and ordered attacks on e-health

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Change; Fight; Attack; Growth; Decline; Opinion; and Study.

CHANGE: Latvian universities to offer students an innovative grant system

To help develop students’ innovative and business abilities, Latvian Education and Science Ministry has developed a new student grant system, which will focus mainly on supporting innovative projects and research and further improve cooperation between universities and leading businesses to attract human resources, the ministry reports.

Formation of this system was supported by the Cabinet of Ministers on Tuesday, 16 January.

In the next six years, the government intends to allocate investments worth EUR 38.5 million. European Regional Development Fund will provide EUR 28.9 million of this amount, whereas private funding will account for EUR 9.6 million.

«Introduction of a grant system for students is part of the planned changes for the higher education system to help create added value and realize changes for export structure in favour of high added value products and services. This requires a conceptually new approach for higher education content and taught skills, especially ones needed to produce new products and ensure innovations,» the ministry notes.

Full article here

FIGHT: NP: Reizniece-Ozola and Kučinskis are proud of tax reform, businessmen are not

Latvia’s tax system underwent serious reforms before the country entered 2018. Until now officials only mentioned the benefits – businessmen will no longer have to pay tax for profits if they reinvest money in business development, the majority of small wage recipients will become several dozen euros richer. However, businessmen are generally dissatisfied with the reform, Nekā personīga reports.

Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola and Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis are proud of the reform. Businessmen, on the other hand, are less than dissatisfied. The main promise – reducing labour force costs – has yet to be completed, whereas the price for it – increased taxes – remains in force, the programme mentioned.

Journalists also mention that there are certain difficulties expected for a large number of employed people. The number of people that will have to declare their income to State Revenue Service will soon increase significantly.

The programme included footage from Kučinskis’ New Year’s speech, in which he mentioned: «A new tax system will be adopted in Latvia tomorrow. There were doubts at the beginning of the year on whether or not this is even possible to do. Now it is done. The tax reform has to vital goals in store for Latvia – reducing inequality and improving growth of the national economy.»

Nekā personīga adds: «The tax reform is one of the pillars that will be used as foundation for the election campaign of the Union of Greens and Farmers in elections expected in autumn. Other parties are proud of it as well. Politicians consider it an act of heroism.»

Full article here

ATTACK: attacks on e-health system and LETA were likely ordered

Attacks on e-health system and LETA agency were likely ordered, said Cert.lv deputy manager Varis Teivāns in an interview to Rīta Panorāma programme of LTV.

He says that Cert.lv has requested information about cyber-attacks to compare data. Initial tests showed a number of similarities. «There are certain similarities. For example, a number of servers have been identified as being used for both attacks. Still, it is too soon to make any specific conclusions,» he said.

Teivāns notes that such cyber-attacks are brutal and primitive. It was likely ordered. «A complex attack freely offered on the black market. And it’s not expensive,» added Cert.lv deputy manager.

Teivāns notes that tracing such attacks is very hard, because attackers use other vulnerable systems accessible on the internet. When asked if it is possible to determine the country from which the attack was organized, Cert.lv representative said that real attackers mask their attacks using proxies, which makes it hard to trace. Usually identification of attackers takes several months. Most of the time, however, no answer is acquired.

At the same time, Cert.lv representative also emphasizes that e-health system was overloaded to make it inaccessible. No data was leaked, however. «Nearly every such project is tested in such a way,» said Teivāns, adding that attacks of this kind are performed nearly every day. Most of them go unnoticed, because they are successfully repelled.

Full article here

GROWTH: 2018 expected to be good for investors

«This year promises to be good for investors, because global economy is on a rise and profits of businesses have a tendency to grow,» says Luminor economic expert Gints Belēvičs.

He notes that 2017 passed with a fat plus sign for stock markets – investments in this asset category secured much larger returns than the average in the past three decades.

Belēvičs also notes that it is important to keep in mind that the economy develops in a cyclic manner – growth is usually followed up by decline. «Fundamental factors do not point to a potential decline around the corner. Nevertheless, the geopolitical situation in the world can still change and have an effect. Growing fuel prices could potentially slow down economic development, especially in Europe.»

Full article here

DECLINE: Saeima’s Oligarchs case investigative committee hastily approves final report

In spite of objections, grammatical errors, criticisms about lacking effort, as well as Inguna Sudraba’s unfit status to lead the committee, members decided to move the meeting from 11:00 to 08:00 and approve the final report in a rushed vote.

Even before the meeting, Andrejs Judins requested the chairperson to provide reasons as to why the meeting was rescheduled. He also voiced concerns that it is not possible to discuss all matters in only thirty minutes. He also mentioned that the report contains a number of grammatical errors and inaccuracies. He was not allowed to finish, however, and his words fell on deaf ears. Inguna Sudraba said that members of the committee spent six hours on Monday, discussing proposals. In the end, the committee agreed on the final redaction of the report. In spite of errors, the vote was performed and the meeting hastily closed.

Members of the committee also exchanged harsh words during the meeting. Ainārs Mežulis urged his colleagues to stop arguing, whereas Igors Pimenovs instead asked his fellow member of the committee to not impede the progress of the meeting. Video footage from the meeting shows no desire to listen to concerns regarding possible problems with the work performed by the committee.

Sudraba asked members of the committee to stop focusing on the many mistakes in the report and instead move on to the vote. Four members voted in favour of the report – Sudraba, Mežulis, Pimenovs, and Mārtiņš Šics.

Full article here

OPINION: Judicial Affairs Council’s work should be more apparent

Work performed by the Judicial Affairs Council should be made more apparent, said Saeima speaker Ināra Mūrniece during her meeting with Supreme Court chairman Ivars Bičkovičs.

The two discussed amendments to the Law on Judicial Power, as well as publicly reported information regarding the quality of rulings made by certain judges in insolvency cases.

Saeima speaker welcomed Supreme Court’s performed analysis of rulings to find a way to equalize court practice and help keep society better informed. She added that there are plans to research court rulings in commercial and insolvency cases this year to compile commoner mistakes and offer solutions to prevent them in the future.

Full article here

STUDY: more than half of Latvians do not trust other people

52% of Latvian residents believe most people cannot be trusted. Only 5% of residents are ready to trust their fellow man. Less than one-fifth of Latvian residents trust decision-makers, according to results of a study performed by SKDS.

«Trust is one of the main conditions for forming a strong and democratic country,» says LAMPA director Ieva Morica. «This is why the central value of this year’s festival in trust.»

Morica continues: «Study shows that the problem us trust is common for every one of us. But I would like to invite people to think critically and consider trusting others. We are all part of the same country. Only together can we create a strong, democratic and well-developed Latvia that we can call home. We would live much better if we could create an environment in which we could trust each other and the state. This festival will allow residents to learn more about this and look for ways to prepare a fertile soil for the future,» says LAMPA director.

Full article here

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For Latvia’s Development: the prime minister is gone, but finance minister claims otherwise

«What we have observed in the past several days is that Latvia’s financial sector has received several heavy strikes as a result of the government’s uncoordinated and chaotic actions. Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis has evidently ‘disappeared’ and offers no clear plans to resolve the crisis, whereas Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola says different things in every interview. Such behaviour will not help resolve the crisis. It could instead pull the country’s financial sector in a much deeper crisis,» says chairman of For Latvia’s Development Juris Pūce.

Bank of Latvia provided ABLV Bank with a loan of 97.5 mln euros in exchange for securities pledge

The Bank of Latvia has provided ABLV Bank with a loan worth EUR 97.5 million in exchange for securities pledge, as confirmed by the financial institution.

Prime Minister: Bank of Latvia governor is not allowed to take official post

As a security measure, the governor of the Bank of Latvia Ilmārs Rimšēvičs has been applied with a prohibition to take post, said Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis after a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Poland's halt to logging in ancient forest came after irreparable damage

Although Poland has stated logging in the old-growth Bialowieza forest has been stopped, Warsaw has failed to reveal the amount of trees already cut down.

«A good friend» pays 100,000 euro bail for arrested governor of the Bank of Latvia

Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (CPCB) has applied a bail of 100,000 euros for the arrested governor of the Bank of Latvia Ilmārs Rimšēvičs. The bail has already been paid to the State Treasury account, as confirmed by his lawyer Saulvedis Vārpiņš.

NP: ABLV blames Latvian officials for misleading foreign institutions

Last week, the reputation of Latvia’s second largest bank – ABLV – was seriously impacted. It is believed that money laundering was this bank’s main operation, and that it failed to comply with the prohibition on cooperation with North Korea. The bank is also accused of bribery. US Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network rarely speaks so directly of any credit institution, says Nekā personīga programme.

Changes to third-country student residence in Estonia to add more responsibilities to university staff

The Estonian government has backed planned amendments are to the Aliens Law implementing an EU directive into Estonian law, which change how third-country nationals on enter and reside in Estonia if they are study or performing research work.

Russia criticises U.S. charges of Russian meddling in U.S. election

The Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov, has criticised the charges announced by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, against 13 Russian nationals and three companies for election meddling.

Government plans to form four riot prevention units in Latvian regions

The State Police plans to form four riot prevention units in Latvia’s regions, says Chief of State Police Ints Ķuzis.

Syrian Kurdish fighters under attack by Turkey announce deal with Syrian government forces

The mainly Kurdish militia in the north-west of Syria have announced having reached an agreement with the Syrian government for the latter to deploy its soldiers in order to help Kurds repel the current Turkish attack.

NCP: it is highly important to replace management of Bank of Latvia and FCMC

Considering recent events, which have not only impacted the country’s finance sector but also its international reputation, the New Conservative Party (NCP) demands immediate measures to be undertaken to replace the management of the Bank of Latvia and the Finance and Capital Market Commission. On top of that, it is also necessary to perform radical changes in the organization and supervision of those institutions, says NCP chairman Jānis Bordāns.

Air temperature in Latvia to gradually decline this week

On Monday, 19 February, atmospheric pressure will increase slightly in the north. With that, it is expected to snow only around Kurzeme’s south-west. Air temperature in most of Latvia will stay at -1° C… -6° C. In Kurzeme, however, air temperature will be around 0° C… +1° C, as reported by State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Week in Lithuania. Lithuania celebrating centennial of statehood

Leaders of European countries gathered in Vilnius on Friday, February 16, to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of restored statehood, and festive events were taking place in many cities and towns of Lithuania.

BNN summary of the week: minister threatened with dismissal; ABLV Bank scandal

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Change; Fight; Court; Problem; Decline; Commentary; Future; Proposal

SRS uncovered violations in 169 inspections at catering companies last year

In 2017, the State Revenue Service (SRS) performed a total of 989 inspections at 212 catering companies. This includes 182 thematic inspections for 125 taxpayers. Violations were uncovered in 169 inspections. The most common violation was manipulation with cash registers, according to information published by SRS.

Russian tourists often decide to celebrate International Women’s Day in Riga

To satisfy growing demand for bus tickets from Russia to Latvia for the week when 8 March is celebrated, Lux Express plans to organize additional buses between St Petersburg and Riga.

FCMC to investigate ABLV Bank again; no operational restrictions applied to the bank

Latvia’s Finance and Capital Market Commission (FCMC) has plans to perform an additional investigation at ABLV Bank in the next couple of weeks, says the commission’s manager Pēters Putniņš, adding that no operational restrictions have been applied to the bank so far.

Study: overall sense of happiness in Latvia is record-low

60% of Latvian residents feel happy. Although this is a good index, there has been a general decline of the sense of happiness, according to a study performed by Amigo mobile network operator and SKDS to assess the level of happiness of Latvian residents.

Raid reveals some taxi drivers in Riga do not have valid driver’s license

A raid was performed by the State Revenue Service and Riga Municipal Police to check taxi service providers in the capital. Authorities uncovered a total of 81 violations in 48 cases, BNN was informed by SRS.

Estonia sea ice crash: last missing body found

Nine days after a van with six people inside drove onto the ice of the Baltic Sea in south-western Estonia, the body of the last victim has been found.

Delna invites immediate investigation of claims about ABLV Bank’s money laundering schemes

The decision by US Finance Ministry’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to apply sanctions against ABLV Bank for involvement in money laundering schemes and bribery of officials was not a surprise. It is a sign for acute need to continue improving investigative and supervisory institutions’ ability to prevent money laundering through Latvia, as noted by Delna – Society for Openness.

Estonian income tax should be simplified, parties believe

The existing income tax scheme in Estonia should be simplified, three parties in the Estonian Riigikogu find, but there are differences in opinion as to maintaining the current state budget income. Meanwhile, the opposition Reform Party has voiced backing for an annual tax-free income of 6,000 a year to every earner.

Baltics propose increasing member states’ contributions to EU budget after Brexit

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia invite European Union member states to increase contributions to the EU budget after 2020 in order to make sure available funds do not drop after UK’s exit.

Instagram obeys Russian internet censor to block content on corruption allegations

In the atmosphere of the March Russian presidential election, social network Instagram has submitted to the demands of Russia's internet censorship body and blocked in the country content with corruption claims voiced by Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Teenager charged with U.S. school shooting has confessed

A day after a tragic school shooting in Florida, the U.S., where 17 people have been killed, the suspect 19-year-old Nicolas Cruz has confessed to police.