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Opinion: Magonis demonstrates the system’s level of manners

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe saddest thing about the criminal drama with the arrest of President of LDz Ugis Magonis is the reaction of the industry’s officials to this piece of news. It came as a surprise to Transport Ministry, said deputy state secretary Dzineta Innusa. LDz Vice-President Aivars Strakss, who is the acting President of LDz at the moment, had not expected anything of the sort, notes Ir magazine journalist Aivars Ozolins.

«We can only imagine whether or not surprise is all about the fact of taking a bribe – then we should also conclude the people responsible for the industry are either naïve or incompetent – or the way everything was carried out – accepting half a million euros in cash and carrying all that money in a paper bag (in this case surprise should be expressed about the naiveté of Magonis and his incompetence in resolving these matters), or the fact that law enforcement authorities actually managed to catch Magonis,» – said Ozolins in an interview to TVnet.

«There is no doubt that guilt for such crimes can only be determined by a court of justice. But one would doubt that a person like Magonis, who has led a state company for as long as he has, would suddenly decide he is no longer satisfied with a salary of EUR 100,000 per year. The minister and others know well that uncertainty regarding his annual income had surfaced nearly every time after submitting his declaration. In 2009, Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau had launched an inspection of Magonis’ transactions, which led authorities to believe there had been illegal money laundering activities. Magonis’ possible involvement in a conflict of interests was investigated in 2012. His managed state company is frequently mentioned in relation to questionable deals and procurements.

This is why is seems unbelievable the minister and other officials don’t know the principles that govern the procurement system, which may be dependent on Russian business culture more so than LDz depends on railway system of its neighbours,» – said Ozolins.

It is possible that LDz’s most valuable business partner Vladimir Jakunin, President of Russian Railway, is somewhat surprised about Magonis’ arrest. As it is common in Russia, the head of a large state enterprise should be politically influential enough to deter others from looking too deeply into his income.

It is with Latvian partners that Jakunin could reach an agreement in regard to matters of economic relations and international politics. It was Latvia that did not allow the EU to introduce sanctions against him. Last September, Matiss announced: ‘It is in Latvia’s interests to have Russian Railway unaffected by EU sanctions.’

«Jakunin is not just the head of a massive state enterprise, but also Vladimir Putin’s associate since KGB times, President of St. Adrei’s Fund and board member of Russkiy Mir. He coordinates activities of pro-Kremlin parties in Europe. He was a guest of honour at Magonis’ birthday celebration in Rundale Castle. This celebration was also attended by Transport Minister Matiss, Economy Minister Daina Reizniece-Ozola and her husband Andris Ozols and the Director of Latvian Development and Investment Agency.

After the celebration, Matiss concluded that Jakunin’s appearance at the celebration was a signal of good relations with Russia. Reizniece-Ozola, on the other hand, said it was a game played by Magonis and Jakunin, and deciding whether or not it was right of him to play this game is, at the very least, impolite.

Jakunin believes growing interest about the income of heads of state enterprises is a very impolite form of invasion of personal space. In January 2015, he threatened to leave his post as President of Russian Railway when the Russian government asked him to provide information about his income. ‘I cannot stand people’s digging through other people’s laundry,» – he said.

«[…] In the strategic corruption game Russia plays in the hybrid war against the West, economic blackmail and temptation is far more effective influence tool than mere bribes. This is why his surprise about some people taking a bit more for themselves in such a business environment is out of place. Magonis is an index of the system’s manners, not a lonely enthusiast of carrying large amounts of cash,» – said the journalist.

«It should be added that Magonis guilt in accepting the bribe has not yet been proven in court, […] However, there are at least two questions that may raise concerns about the case’s successful resolution.

First of all, all news detail the bribe’s reception. There is next to no information about giving the bribe, aside from cautious speculations that Magonis had met with Osinovskis in Pernava and that the bribe was supposedly handed during that meeting. Following a request from Latvian law enforcement authorities, Estonian police carried out a search in Osinovskis’ offices. Neither Osinovskis nor anyone else has been detained as the person who gave the bribe to Magonis.

Secondly, KNAB avoided providing any information whatsoever on this case. No information was given in regard to this operation even being real. The fact that Magonis has been detained was announced by minister Matiss. It was later confirmed by Estonian security service KaPo. Only on 10 August did KNAB reluctantly confirm that the detainment really take place. Unusual reluctance, considering this is the most serious KNAB operation in recent years.

[…] Strelchenok was on vacation when the operation to detain Magonis was taking place. This case will be a test for him to demonstrate whether or not he is more concerned about his formal rule in the bureau or combating corruption as a whole,» – said Ozolins.

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