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New port terminal project causes collision of interests of Šķēle, Ameriks and Republic of Belarus

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIn the plans to create a new oil product handling terminal at Riga Freeport, Kundzinsala, a collision of interests has taken place, which involves Andris Šķēle, Republic of Belarus and Andris Ameriks.

The war in Ukraine has created risks and new opportunities for Riga Freeport. Companies working at the port have received information that Russia may start exporting its oil products through St Petersburg and Ustyug next year. For Belarus, on the other hand, it is the other way around – there is now a necessity to expand its Baltic transit corridor, because it is no longer safe to pump oil products through Ukraine, as reported by Nekā personīga programme of TV3.

In parallel, Belarus also holds talks with Lithuania. Belarus has also started exporting potassium salt through Klaipeda this summer. If no agreement is reached with Latvia in the nearest future, there is a risk that cargoes like crude, petrol and diesel fuel from Belarus companies will also leave.

«[…] we need to decide between Riga and Klaipeda. It also largely depends on the level of interest from ministries to have cargoes be carried through Riga. We have lost mineral fertilizers from Belarus to Klaipeda. They have left Ventspils. We do not want to lose oil products as well,» – says Latvian Transport Minister Anrijs Matiss.

Skonto būve’s co-owner Ivars Millers has been a cooperation partner for Belarus at Riga Freeport for more than a year. He has been leased 59 ha of land on the northern part of Kundzinsala in exchange for the promise to build an enormous container logistical part work EUR 170 million there. The idea with the logistical park failed and Miller instead decided to focus on the oil terminal project. Belarus decided to believe Miller’s promise. This was also benefited by the fact that ex-Prime Minister Andris Šķēle had been chosen as Millers’ consultant. Nevertheless, as a precaution, Belarus had also sent its ambassador to Riga City Council in order to receive confirmation from the local administration that there will be investments in the oil product terminal. However, they were not expecting ecological resistance. ‘In regard to the Northern terminal, I can say that I am very sceptical about oil products being handled there, because Riga City Council had declined two previous proposals from Mantess and Naftas serviss,’ – sais Andris Ameriks.

It is also worth checking if the contract with Millers’ company should be kept valid, because the businessman promised to invest only EUR 42 million in the oil terminal, not EUR 170 million as it was with the container terminal. «Businessmen have submitted their letters, but they have not submitted their business plans. Right now there is only a wish to change conditions of their lease contracts,» – said Ameriks.

After such a cold shower, oil exporters from Belarus did not rush to Klaipeda port, because they do not want to concentrate their export in a single port. Prime Minister of Belarus Mikhail Myasnitsky had told Latvian President Andris Berzins about these problems during their meeting in New York, USA. Upon his return to Riga, Berzins asked his advisor Aivis Ronis to handle this problem and travel to Belarus to calm down exporters of the neighbouring state. Ronis took consultant Andris Šķēle with him.

«The most important right now is to make sure there is cargo flow for Latvian ports. At the same time, it is important to diversify countries that send cargoes. As we see with the case of potassium, BY is capable enough to reach a long-term agreement with Klaipeda. The question is this – what does Riga have to do in order to make sure BY remains stays here? This is what my client has asked of me. My client is I.Millers, a man with a good reputation and high professional integrity,» – notes Šķēle.

It is possible that Šķēle has other interests in the oil transit project with Belarus. Kundzinsala’s Northern project belonged to Millers until September 2014. It then passed to a company that was once owned by the Šķēle family. By October 8th, its owner became Pic LV, which does not show owners in its enterprise register entry. Its Council Chairman is Millers’ son Kristaps and Deputy Chairman – businessman Edgars Dupats. Šķēle’s daughter Madara has changed her surname and is now Madara Šķēle – Dupate. Businessman Dupats is also Chairman of the Council of Liepaja Bus Park, half of which belongs to Šķēle’s family.

This week, Riga Freeport had increased rent fees for Kundzinsala’s Northern Project three times, because the company has not done anything. Mayor of Riga Nil Ushakov does not have such a strong ecological position as his colleague Ameriks. He is not prepared to sit down and talk with the delegation from Belarus. However, it is not even known if the delegation ever plans to hold any talks with Latvia. Businessmen from Belarus plan to hold talks about cargo exports to Klaipeda next week. «It is clear that the current situation abroad and competition do not hold anything good for Riga Freeport and the region. Diversification is always a welcome initiative, but we should also keep in mind that we also have a rather large neighbour when it comes to transit. There is no diversification that could potentially move this neighbour away. Replacing this neighbour with a new one is slightly out of our range of competence,» – said Ushakov.

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