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Saturday 23.06.2018 | Name days: Līga
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BNN summary of the week: the dark side of construction and the level of state control over gas

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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; Business; Fight; Decline; Truth and Growth.

Change: Latvian state should take over Conexus Baltic Grid

Latvian state should buy the controlling package of shares in gas transmission and storage operator Conexus Baltic Grid, says Latvian MEP Krisjanis Karins.

He emphasizes that Latvia’s gas market was dominated for a long time by Latvijas gaze and Gazprom. This is why it should be viewed as an opportunity for Latvia to recover control over critical infrastructure – Incukalns gas storage facility and gas pipeline.

When asked if it is not enough for Conexus Baltic Grid’s largest shareholders to sell their shares in the company before the end of the year and the state has pre-purchase and veto rights, and that regulations already govern the function of Conexus Baltic Grid on the free market, Karins said no, emphasizing the importance of having a capable company contribute to the function of the free market and the creation of a unified Baltic market.

Full article here

Business: Five European companies agree to finance Nord Stream 2

Nord Stream 2 and five European energy companies have signed the project’s financing agreement and have shown their readiness to provide funding equal to 50% of the project’s total costs, as confirmed by the company.

Current estimates state the project’s costs may be around EUR 9.5 billion. Each European company participating in the project will invest EUR 950 million.

Although funding for Nord Stream 2 will be secured by Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper and Wintershall, Gazprom will remain the only shareholder in the project, as stated in the company’s announcement.

Company representatives note that the readiness of European companies to finance the project is proof of Nord Stream 2 project’s strategic importance for Europe’s gas market. It will benefit competition and ensure long-term and medium-term energy security, especially considering the expected decline in gas production in Europe.

Full article here

Fight: Work safety at a construction field: problem, myth or unnecessary extra

The matter of work safety in construction remains a topical and complex matter. One of the examples is the construction process of Kekava primary school, in relation to which residents have voiced serious concerns for the safety of the people at work there. Construction firm Abora, meanwhile, says there is nothing to those rumours, and that those are merely «foolish words» coming from dissatisfied workers.

BNN decided to dig into this matter.

The second stage of the construction process of Kekava primary school commenced in January 2015. After all the necessary documents and technical specifications were prepared, a tendering process was announced for the third stage of the construction process.

Abora won the tender. This company was also responsible for the previous two stages of the construction process. The contract was signed by Kekava City Council Chairman Andis Damlics and Abora board member Juris Kravalis on 18 August 2015, according to information available on the website.

BNN has since acquired photos from Kekava residents, showing that workers at the construction field have insufficient equipment. On top of that, workers themselves have expressed serious concerns about their own safety when working there.

Full article here

Truth: Lembergs continues prolonging court process; prosecutors concerned

Aivars Lembergs’ criminal case remains in court for the ninth year. The past seven months have been spent solely on listening to Aivars Lembergs’ testimony. Prosecutors are concerned that the accused may be using his testimony to prolong the court process, as reported by Latvijas Radio about the state of the criminal case and prosecutors’ opinion of it.

Prosecutors have amended charges a little bit in the criminal case revolving around Aivars Lembergs. The accused believes prosecutors are the ones who have been delaying the court process for years. Prosecutors, on the other hand, say: «The court is not the party that breaches the established term. Aivars Lembergs is the one who breaches the term.»

Lembergs has noted on Twitter that prosecutors have softened the charges against him and part of the charges has been lifted completely. «Thereby charges have been left considerably flatter». Lembergs added that this is the third variant of the charges presented in the past nine years and that prosecutors have been delaying the case for years.

Full article here

Growth: number of Baltic tourists’ trips to USA increases

In the summer season, Baltic tourists prefer to travel by air to Asia and UAE. The most popular destinations reachable by land include Italy, Spain and Germany, according to information compiled by travel agency Estravel and car rent company Budget.

When picking their destinations, people from Baltic States most often prefer countries with a warm climate. «Thailand, UAE, Canary Islands and USA are all popular destinations. The summer season begins in May, when people mostly want to travel to Greece, Turkey and Spain,» says Estravel representative, adding that Baltic resident also often travel to neighbouring countries.

The choice of a destination depends on convenient flight routes and the overall safety level of the chosen destination. Estravel representative notes that the number of travel arrangements made to Egypt has declined. Instead, Baltic tourists more often decide to travel to United Arab Emirates.

International car rent company Budget reports that this year’s observations show that the most popular destinations reachable by land in Europe from Baltic States include Italy, Spain and Germany.

Full article here

Decline: Last year foreign travellers stayed in Latvia for longer, but spent less money

In 2016, foreign travellers crossed the border of Latvia 6.8 million times, which is 0.7 % less than during the previous year. Last year foreign travellers spent EUR 645.2 million in Latvia – EUR 97.0 million or 13.1 % less than in 2015.

In 2016, Latvia was visited by 1.8 million foreign overnight travellers (11.4 % less than in 2015), spending 12.3 % less and the expenditure amounting to EUR 474.4 million. Latvia was visited for the first time by 30.1 % of the foreign travellers. As compared to the previous year, the total number of nights spent increased by 7.6 %, reaching 8.8 million nights. Visitors stayed in Latvia for 4.9 days on average – 0.9 days more than in 2015, according to data from the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Compared to the previous year, there was an increase in the number of foreign overnight travellers from Poland – of 8.6 %, Lithuania – of 8.5 %, Germany – of 6.7 %, and the United Kingdom – of 4.8 %. In turn, there was a decrease in the number of foreign overnight travellers from Sweden – of 37.1 %, Belgium – of 34.6 %, the Czech Republic – of 23.4 %, Russia – of 20.3 %, and Estonia – of 7.0 %.

Full article here

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SRS uncovers numerous violations more than half of inspected companies

State Revenue Service’s Tax Control Office performed a total of 305 thematic inspections of employers in Latvia in Q1 2018. Authorities recorded violations in 171 inspections, according to information from SRS.

Third level pension plan deposit volumes reach new record value

Residents’ interest for pension savings remains high. The volume of deposits made to private pension funds in the first three months of 2018 has reached a new historic peak: a total of EUR 16.5 million has been paid to 3rd level pension accounts, which is 11.6% more when compared to the same period of 2017, as reported by Finance and Capital Market Commission.

Petrol station network in Latvia caught performing fraudulent activities with diesel fuel

State Revenue Service’s Tax and Customs Police have uncovered and put an end to a fraudulent scheme with diesel fuel performed by some network of petrol stations in Latvia, as confirmed by the service.

Kaimiņš: I believe CPCB is performing a political order

In the evening of Thursday, 21 June, Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau released three people previously detained as part of a criminal process regarding possible illegal funding of KPV LV party – Saeima deputy Artuss Kaimiņš, his colleague Atis Zakatistovs, and businessman Viesturs Tamužs.

Latvia’s parliament conceptually supports new sanction regulations

On Thursday, 21 June, Saeima supported in the final reading amendments to the Law on International Sanctions and National Sanctions of the Republic of Latvia that are meant to improve sanction regime regulations to ensure efficient application of national and international sanctions, as reported by Saeima press-service.

Storm in Tallinn floods streets, cuts Croatia-Argentina match short on TV

A rain storm has hit northern Estonia on Thursday, flooding some streets in the capital Tallinn, damaged buildings and badly affected the broadcast of an interesting World Cup game.

American banks tested for financial stress show positive results

The U.S. has performed banking stress tests and found that the 35 largest banks operating in the country have enough funds on hand to sail safely through a severe financial crisis.

Saeima fires judge for coming to work in a drunken state

On Thursday, 21 June, Latvia’s parliament supported the proposal to dismiss Rezekne Court judge Arvis Garais from his post. 71 deputies voted in favour, no one abstained and no one voted against.

UK to have three requirements to EU citizens willing to remain in UK

For citizens of the European Union willing to continue living in the UK after the country leaves the bloc, they will have to submit applications and answer three key questions over the internet, according to the country's interior minister.

Weather in Latvia to be rainy and cool during Ligo; next week’s weather to be dry and hot

Weather at the end of the week in Latvia will be dictated by a cyclone. Because of that, there will be instances of rain on Ligo. Weather is expected to improve next week, however, according to Latvia’s State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Lithuania’s blood plasma corruption scandal extends to Latvia

The former head of Lithuania‘s National Blood Centre, suspected of corruption and involvement in unlicenced activity, received more bad news this week from Latvia, where investigators of the Lithuanian Special Investigation Service had questioned the Latvian Health minister, Anda Čakša.

Administrative burden to be reduced for foreign students and researchers

The administrative burden will be reduced for foreign students and researchers, as well as all education and research institutions hosting them. This is provided by the amendments to the Immigration Law approved by the Saeima in the third reading on Thursday, 21 June.

Latvian Economy Minister endures no-confidence vote

Saeima declined opposition deputies’ request for dismissal of Economy Minister Arvils Ašeradens.

Swedbank economist becomes new member of Bank of Latvia Council

On Thursday, 21 June, Latvia’s Saeima approved Mārtiņš Kazāks in his new post as member of Bank of Latvia Council, as confirmed by Saeima’s press-service.

Pope Francis’ visit to Latvia will be a national holiday

Latvia’s parliament has approved in the final reading a law that makes 24 September – the day Pope Francis plans to visit Latvia – a national holiday.

ICT specialist numbers in Latvia are below Europe’s average level

In Latvia, information and communication technology specialists form only 2.2% of all employed people in the country, which is considerably below the average level in the European Union – 3.7%. Romania and Greece are the only two EU member states in which the number of ICT specialists is below Latvia’s, according to European Commission’s DESI index.

Hungary adopts prison sentence for helping migrants

Hungarian National Assembly has passed a set of laws criminalising with prison terms some help provided to illegal immigrants by non-governmental organisations.

Harmony plans turning to Constitutional Court to prevent transition to Latvian language in schools

«Why should this reform stay unrealized? It is because schools are not prepared for cardinal changes coming from dozens of other reforms that have already shocked the country’s entire general education system,» says chairman of National Minority School Parents Forum and member of Harmony’s work group in Konstantīns Čekušins.

Deputies detained in KPV LV criminal case not declared suspects yet

Saeima deputy Artuss Kaimiņš and businessman Viesturs Tamužs detained in the criminal process regarding possibly illegal funding of KPV LV party have not yet been declared suspects. Both are currently in police custody. It is likely Kaimiņš will be released later today, 21 June.

Production of mines and grenades planned in Estonia

As the Estonian parliament has adopted new rules on military arms and ammunition production in the country, local defence firm Eesti Arsenal has voiced its plan to build a factory in Estonia to make military explosives.

Total tax debts in Latvia reached EUR 1.224 billion in June

At the beginning of June, total tax debts in Latvia, including topical, halted debts and extended repayment terms were equal to EUR 1.233 billion, which is 0.6% less compared to May, as reported by State Revenue Service.

Switch off internet nationwide during exams – Algerian approach

In an attempt to prevent cheating during secondary school exams, the north African nation Algeria, has turned off internet in its whole territory.

Control Service proposes kicking out shell companies as intensely as offshore companies

Shell companies in Latvia should be combated with the same intensity once shown to offshore companies, says chief of Anti-Money Laundering Service Ilze Znotiņa.

EU imposes tariffs on blue jeans, motorcycles and other U.S. export goods

The European Union will introduce retaliatory tariffs against U.S. exports on Friday, EU Trade Commissioner has stated a top official has stated in the bloc's reaction to Washington imposing steep duties on steel and aluminium earlier in June.

Latvia’s Saeima proposes improving job-combining rules for state officials

On Wednesday, 20 June, Latvian parliament’s Public Administration and Local Government Committee decided to submit for review amendments to the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest in Activities of Public Officials.

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