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Sunday 19.11.2017 | Name days: Liza, Līze, Elizabete, Betija
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Millions worth eel larvae procurement halted in suspicion of inappropriate management

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The Agriculture Ministry has halted a more than 1 million LVL worth procurement of eel larvae, because information had surfaced about possible inappropriate actions. Unofficial information suggests that the state could have overpaid at least four times the normal price for eel larvae in the past.

The procurement process involved a mediator firm – a classic post box company – for which this transaction could may have been the only one in its existence, as revealed by Nekā personīga (Nothing personal) programme’s investigation.

The European eel is protected species, and their number is small. In Latvia as well. This is why gourmet’s were happy when the EU decided to add to Latvia’s eel population, allocating funding for this purpose.

The fact that the eel is a very sensitive fish, it cannot be artificially bred. It became clear that the larvae will need to be imported from foreign countries (England and France) where the larvae can be collected at specific time between February and April. The Agriculture Ministry entrusted the procurement process to BIOR state science centre, which has experience in fish breeding and research.

BIOR announced a contest. There was only one applicant – a company registered in the Czech Republic. In 2011, more than 300 thousand eel larvae were added to Latvia’s lakes and rivers. This cost the state 205 020 LVL. The same Czech company won the contest in 2012. Latvia’s water bodies received more than a million larvae. The costs were impressive as well – 576 800 LVL.

The final stage in this enormous three-year procurement project was to be announced this week. But after the surfacing of the shocking information, the contest was halted.

“We have received information from our neighbouring states and the European Commission that Latvia has been procuring eels at notably higher prices than there are on average in Europe,” – Rural support service director Anna Vitola-Helviga told the programme.

While visiting Estonia, the representative of the Latvia fish control service received a revealing note from his Estonian colleague. Now he anxiously awaits how much Latvia will overpay for eel larvae this year.

The highest price one eel larva costs in Europe is 0.16 LVL. This is four times lower than the price BIOR paid in the first procurement year. Suspicions arose about a total expense increase in this project worth a total of 568 412 LVL. BIOR Director Rafaela Joffes’ developed requirements to contest candidates were high: they are required to have experience in international projects and work in the field of eel protection and population restoration.

The information about the Czech company the programme uncovered puts in question not only the company’s abilities in fish protection, but also allows suggest that it is merely a post box firm, created for the purpose of this project only.

The Marten Business Group registered in Prague’s centre was founded in 2009. Its base capital was a little over 5 thousand LVL. The firm belongs to a Cyprus registered offshore, which is owned by to similar post box firms. This firm’s revenue was 0 in 2010. The firm’s official is some Brit Niki Cutts-White, who, according to the internet, is a lawyer who founds offshores for clients. According to information available to journalists, the signatures of this person are found on the contract for eel larvae supply to Latvia.

After carefully researching photos from the eel larvae release event to Latvia’ waters it can be seen that boxes containing this valuable cargo have UK Glass Eels firm’s labels. It is the largest and most recognizable company in this business, and its prices are well known.

Why did BIOR choose to procure eel larvae through a mediator and not directly from this company will be determined in the audit of the Agriculture Ministry.

“This is an emergency audit. I for one cannot imagine us performing an audit on something else. It is important to remember that this is a rare and complex product,” – said the Agriculture Ministry’s state secretary Dace Lucaua.

It is possible that eel larvae may not enter Latvia’s rivers and lakes this year, because the investigation requires several weeks. It will not be possible to organize a new procurement until May. This does not, however, put an end to the realization of the important environmental project. There will be funding for it next year.

Ref: 102.109.109.6350


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