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Wednesday 17.01.2018 | Name days: Tenis, Dravis

Oligarchs in Latvia have been building up influence by distorting media for years

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe conversations tapped in Ridzene Hotel reveal that Latvian infamous oligarchs have been building up their influence over the years by subjugating and distorting media, Ir magazine writes.

«You know what’s s**t? We never resolved… What I said before – we need to agree on social media. We did sort out television, at least. Radio was the only remaining part,» Aivars Lembergs told Ainars Slesers after 10th Saeima elections. In those elections, Slesers’ and Andris Skele’s union Par labu Latviju gained eight seats. «We lost in the short term because there are opponents. What will they do once television and radio are united and private media are in our pocket? They won’t have any resources. We can play this well,» said Slesers.

«Every day they rinse brains,» Lembergs summarized the situation with social media after 10th Saeima elections. Slesers offered forming a union after presidential elections. «Latvian radio and television have ready-made team to cover the entire field. All we need is optimizing activities, relocating to new premises but under a single management,» he said.

Ir reports that such a political concept with involvement of different institutions and experts was developed and would have been realized if not for the sudden decision by Valdis Dombrovskis’ government to put an end to it.

After 10th Saeima elections, Lembergs’ UGF secured influence in a coalition with Unity. At the same time, the majority of the Saeima was in favour of oligarchs’ desired union involving UGF Par labu Latviju and Harmony, would have allowed them to «get rid of» then the President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers and pick a «proper» president that would pave the way for government change. It was also the goal to ensure voters were disappointed in Valdis Dombrovskis’ Cabinet of Ministers, Ir writes.

«The goal is to screw the government,» Slesers formulated in business talks with airBaltic manager Bertolt Flick. To Andris Ameriks, Slesers said: «We’ll put media to constant criticizing of the government». Still, he said they would have to stay in the spotlight. «We should be in the centre, damn it! So that people see! We have to mobilize forces to show that we are not losers. In opposition, but alive and well,» Slesers told his partner Viesturs Koziols. «If we want to consolidate the country, we have to consolidate the media,» Slesers concluded.

«LNT is out direct channel. For LTV, we can provide regular reports,» Slesers told Andris Ameriks. «Diena is already bought,» he told ex-prime minister Vilis Kristopans. «We have Diena and Dienas Bizness, whereas Aivars has Neatkarīga,» PBK, whose management is shared by Harmony and Par labu Latviju.

As reported by Ir, oligarchs also calculated that the money for the media would be taken from state and municipal businesses controlled by the same politicians. Because, although media do not bring profits, those should be sustained to maintain influence, as Slesers explained to Ameriks, who asked at the end of 2010 if the ‘masters’ would continue financing Diena after elections. «It should be kept to prevent the formation of Diena-2. It should be maintained because it is what’s most important,» Slesers said.

He also thought about reaching into state and municipal businesses’ pockets to cover Diena’s losses. In a conversation with Lattelecom Chief Juris Gulbis in November 2010, he mentioned: «We should consider forming long-term relations. One thing is advertisements. PR and everything else is the second thing.» Gulbis agreed that there would be no problems with signing an agreement. «We’ve slowly gotten to a situation when those f***ng writers are all out,» Slesers added.

But in January 2011 he told his business partner Ralfs Klavins that Koziols could reduce costs in Diena by a maximum amount, but that would require bringing something in return. «The point is covering minuses with some other funds. Most importantly – so that we should not have to put anything in ourselves,» Slesers said.

In February, Slesers came up with a solution for airBaltic and told Koziols about it: «I told him [Flick] that an agreement should be signed to cover that hole». Koziols came up with a way to satisfy Slesers’ desire – to have Diena praise Riga City Council. «Let me tell you what will happen with Riga City Council. The city council will be in the gold – we create a separate section for Riga news. We cannot allow what happened with Neatkarīga. It is pathetic – it keeps rapidly losing its audience! Ainars, let’s make it classy and in good taste. Once every ten days – Riga news! Colourful and cool!» said Koziols.

Ridzene talks also reveal that oligarchs also discussed the possibility of consolidating media concerns. In February 2011, Koziols asked what was going on with LNT – whether or not it was being bought by Norwegian Schibsted. Slesers explained: «I’ve talked with Andris, and he offered one option. First, nothing can be bought there right now, because those shares are arrested. But they will come up with a solution to increase capital and Andrejs’ shares will become such… Andris says uniting it – everything with television. This is because there are all regional channels». Koziols objected, saying that there is no point investing because the future is with internet television. Nevertheless, Slesers stuck to his guns. «This is about influence. […] There would be synergy. Otherwise we will never sort out that particular policy. […] One of three channels – not bad for Latvia,» said Slesers.

Ir reports that the scheme was realized in 2011 – a massive capital increase was performed in Independent National Media. Skele’s intermediately owned firm became its main owner. But losses continued for LNT, and after autumn elections in 2011, Ekis’ partners disappeared from politics. A year later, he was forced to sell his share to TV3 owners – Swedish MTG. But in accordance with competition rules, both channels still have their respective news services and their editing policy remain different to one another.

This is the third published portion of deciphered Ridzene talks published by Ir magazine.

Slesers has yet to comment on this story as of yet. Ameriks actively denies any relation to Ir magazine’s published conversations. During a meeting of Riga City Council last year, he said he categorically denied any relation to those statements, claiming he never said anything of the kind. He claimed talks were falsified.

Lembergs detailed in his statement to mass media this week that the conversation with Slesers in Ridzene Hotel were presented in a completely distorted form.


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  1. Zerry says:

    I didn’t know that Slesers is that incompetent in doing normal honest business. The sad thing is that Mr. Ameriks is in good position in Riga. I strongly suppose the best way to do big profitable business in Riga is to became a friend with Andris :)

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