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Monday 20.05.2019 | Name days: Venta, Salvis, Selva
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BNN summary of the week: busted judges in Lithuania; online voting in Estonia; Swedbank under fire

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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: Extension; Untouchables; Growth; Choice; Change; Violence; Suspicion.

EXTENSION: Selection term of CEC chairman’s candidate to be extended

Politicians of the ruling coalition in Latvia have agreed to extend the candidate selection process of the head of Central Election Commission by two weeks.

There are two possible candidates at the moment – former Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau worker Diāna Kurpniece and current CEC secretary Ritvars Eglājs. The coalition has yet to agree on a single candidate. Because of that, discussions on this subject will continue.

KPV LV faction chairman Atis Zakatistovs said CEC chairman’s candidates should be interviewed at an open Saeima committee meeting. He refrained from expressing support to any of the publicly announced candidates, saying that discussions are needed to listen to candidates’ vision for the future of CEC. The politician did not exclude the possibility of KPV LV picking its own candidate.

National Alliance chairman Raivis Dzintars said the term for candidate selection will be extended and possible candidate will be carefully evaluated.

Full article here

UNTOUCHABLES: Lithuanian law enforcers bust high-profile judges and attorneys

In an unprecedented move yet, Lithuania’s law enforcers busted this week what it may be an organised, yet impenetrable until now ring of the country’s some A-tier judges and lawyers. Some of the big names have deliberated high-profile legal cases implicating some of Lithuania’s most heinous criminal gangs.

Lithuania’s Prosecutor General’s Office reported on Wednesday morning that, in total, 26 persons, including eight judges and five attorneys, were handcuffed and indicted on charges of corruption, influence peddling and bribery. The prosecutors allege that the suspects accepted around 400 thousand euros in bribes which were used to get a favourable judiciary decision.

The prosecutors hint that the detained judges and lawyers knew each other well and that not only the professional activity linked them but also the shared leisure interests, like hunting, for example. As a rule, they would hide their clandestine liaisons from others, even from their closest colleagues and family members. According to the officials, the incriminated judges would especially shun their younger colleagues at courts – namely young-generation judges sanctioned the arrests. The suspects, the prosecutors say, were wiretapped for «quite some time» before their apprehension.

Although the detained judges boasted very good reputation, however their detentions did not come as a surprise to some of their fellow judges.

For example, Kažys, a judge of the Lithuanian Court of Appeal, and who is said to be one or the most affluent judges in Lithuania, has deliberated many high-profile legal cases involving notorious contrabandists and criminal ring member. Notably, to astonishment of many of his colleagues and the public, he has freed some of them when no one expected it. Specifically, the judge released from jail notorious drug dealers from the so-called Lapinai criminal ring. He did so after his counterparts from lower-tier courts ruled the criminals posed real threat to the public.

So far, heads of Lithuania’s law enforcement agencies are very reluctant to give any details on the ongoing pre-trial investigations.

Grilled by a host of the popular TV programme Dienos tema on Wednesday night, neither Žydrūnas Bartkus, head of the Special Investigation Service, STT, nor Evaldas Pašilis, the Prosecutor General, or Algimantas Valantinas, a prominent judge and chairman of Lithuania’s Council of Courts, said anything concrete about the scandal that seems to devastate the country’s judiciary system, as many other possible revelations on the judges’ and on other, yet unindicted judges’ malfeasances are likely yet to follow.

«We however need to respect presumption of innocence,» cautioned Pašilis.

Full article here

GROWTH: nearly 32,000 Latvian companies have disclosed true beneficiaries

31,800 Latvian companies have disclosed their true beneficiaries. Of those businesses, 28,300 had registered this information last year. Among the most frequently mentioned names of beneficiaries in Latvia are Aigars Kesenfelds, Guntis Rāvis and Ernests Bernis, according to data from Lursoft.

79.47% of all reported beneficiaries are people from Latvia. 47 of them are minors, as concluded in Lursoft study. It was also found out that in 372 cases when a company’s majority shareholder is a foreigner true beneficiary is Latvian citizen.

In 6.19% of cases the registered beneficiaries are not participants in any companies registered in Latvia. One-fifth of those people had owned shares in companies in the past.

One such person is Aigars Kesenfelds, who is currently the true beneficiary in 81 companies. At the same time, he owns no shares in any company. This businessman is the true beneficiary in several real estate companies, as well as a firm that offers self-service carwash – SIA Wash and Drive, AS Skanstes Biroju Centrs, SIA Mintos Finance and others. Kesenfelds’ interests in those companies are represented by AS ALPS Investments, as well as Malta-based Dyonne Trading & Investments Limited and other companies of this kind. Since June 2018, the number of businesses in which Kesenfelds is registered as true beneficiary has increased by a total of 19 companies.

Guntis Rāvis’s name is also frequently mentioned on lists of true beneficiaries. According to information from Lursoft, Rāvis is the true beneficiary in 75 companies. At the same time, he is also a shareholder in 7 companies and has posts in 53 companies.

Full article here

CHOICE: Parliamentary election begins in Estonia with online voting

With Estonia’s signature online voting the 2019 parliamentary election has begun on Thursday, offering a variety of advance voting options in the period until the real election day, March 3.

Estonian State Electoral Office wrote in a press release of on Thursday, February 21, that I-voting is possible on the address www.valimised.ee, around the clock until 6 p.m. on 27 February.

Head of the State Electoral Office Priit Vinkel commented: «This time, there are no significant changes in i-voting. A smaller addition is the possibility to search the candidate by name; also, the opening view displays the list of parties that you can click to see the candidates».

Interestingly, a vote cast over the internet can be changed by another electronic vote, or by voting in a polling place on the advance voting days. A voter cannot change their vote on the election day, 3 March.

Full article here

CHANGE: Minister: after MPC abolishment, Latvia will have to cultivate green energy more

Once the mandatory procurement component has been abolished, we will have to think about increasing green energy production, says Latvian Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro.

The minister says there are many ways to contribute to green energy production, but he currently has no detailed plan for this. As one of the examples, Nemiro mentioned supporting wind energy production.

«Support for wind energy in Lithuania is expansive, whereas in Latvia it is the lowest among the Baltic States. Wind energy’s market price is the least overcompensated above the exchange price. At the same time, CHP plants are provided with a lot of permits – four times more than it is needed for Latvia’s energy,» said the minister.

When asked to comment on residents’ opposition towards certain investors’ desire to develop wind turbine parks in Latvia, Nemiro mentioned that based on research there are only four locations in the country where it is economically viable to place wind turbines. «Investors have proposed building wind turbine parks at sea, where residents would not be bothered. The main question, of course, is the economic benefit of this. In any case, development of wind parks is in the hands of businessmen,» added the minister.

Full article here

VIOLENCE: Estonian ex-Eurocrat convicted of rape in Brussels

A court in Belgium has found an Estonian man, who is a former high-ranking official of the European Union, guilty of rape and sentenced to four years in jail.

Estonian public broadcaster reported, citing Belgian La Dernière Heure and Estonian Eesti Press, that man convicted on Monday, February 18, was known as M.R., a former EU director of aviation and international transport affairs. The the victim, meanwhile, is a lawyer working at the EU’s Mobility and Transport directorate.

According to the court, the crime had taken place in the premises of the European Commission in September 2015. The court made the guilty verdict on the basis of statements of the victim, findings of a medical examination, and phone calls made by the victim. A witness also described having seen the two earlier the same night, the victim repeatedly rejecting the advances of M.R.

Full article here

SUSPICION: Swedbank says they don’t have sufficient information to comment accusations

Swedbank does not have sufficient information to comment the accusations voice by Swedish media in regards to the bank’s possible involvement in money laundering schemes, said the bank’s governor Birgitte Bonnesen.

As noted by the bank, it has complied with all requirements introduced to prevent money laundering.

«We know nothing about those 50 clients and the mentioned amount EUR 3.8 billion,» said Bonnesen at a telephone conference, adding that Swedish television has not shared information used as base for accusations. Nevertheless, Swedbank is interested in any information that can help the bank uncover suspicious transactions.

Swedbank government said money laundering is a major problem all banks around the world face. However, the risk for Swedbank is lower, considering the bank’s internal model.

«We focus on servicing private persons on domestic markets. International transactions are not part of our business model. The ratio of non-resident among our clients is approximately 1%, and most of them are EU residents,» she said.

According to Bonnesen, international transactions that have been on a stable level for years are not proof enough of money laundering activities. The only thing that has changed is dependence on economic changes. Additionally, relative digits have been balanced in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Full article here


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Raising minimal income level in Latvia would require EUR 28 million

Latvia’s Welfare Ministry has developed a Plan to improve minimal income support system in 2020-2021. In it, the ministry details that the plan’s implementation requires approximately EUR 28 million, as informed by the ministry’s social inclusivity department’s director Elīna Celmiņa.

Estonia investigates electricity blackout in Russian border city

In Estonia, an investigation has been opened into a power blackout that took place in the north-eastern border city of Narva and other places in the region.

Latvia’s Saeima to pick a new state president after EP elections

Saeima’s Praesidium and Faction Council decided on 20 May to keep the State President’s Election Day unchanged – it will happen 29 May.

Study: packaging convenience still trumps environment friendliness

For Latvian residents convenience of packages remains the most important factor. However, environment friendliness is gradually becoming more and more important for people, according to results of a study by Immer Group.

Harmony reportedly used RTDB to hire foreign political communication specialists

Latvian investigators have acquired documents that reveal how prior to 13th Saeima elections Riga Tourism Development Bureau (RTDB), which receives funding from Riga’s budget, had performed at least ten money transfers to several political communication experts from Germany, Sweden and Spain, as reported by public broadcaster TV3 programme Nekā personīga.

Ukraine’s Zelensky starts presidency with dissolution of parliament

Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky has been sworn in Kyiv on Monday and in his inaugural speech has announced the dissolution of the Ukrainian parliament.

Austria heading to snap election after right-wing coalition collapses

Austrian political leaders are favouring calling a snap election after the government coalition in Vienna collapsed over alleged influence peddling by Vice-Chancellor.

Egypt bomb attack hits tourist bus

17 tourists in Egypt have been wounded in a bomb explosion near the landmark Giza pyramids.

Latvian Railways reportedly wastes money with self-promotion in sports; UGF might be involved

Last year and at the beginning of this year, Latvian Railways spent at least two million euros on self-promotion. A considerable portion of this money was provided to sports organizations, of which multiple have ties with the Union of Greens and Farmers, as reported by public broadcaster Latvian Television programme De Facto.

In spite of heavy rains, air temperature in Latvia will reach +29° C this week

The sky will be cloudy at the beginning of this week in Latvia. Nevertheless, it will clear from time to time. As the sky clears, daytime air temperature will reach +24° C… +29° C, as reported by Latvia’s Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Week in Lithuania: PM clears no-confidence vote, top Court slaps LFGU, councillor fined for slander

Last week, Lithuania suffered upset in 2019 Eurovision Song Contest; PM Saulius Skvernelis survived a vote of no-confidence by the ruling LFGU; the Constitutional Court ruled that the Seimas breached law in dealing with public broadcaster LRT.

BNN summary of the week: shadow over Latvia's economy; Kalnmeiers receives bashing

The week passed in Latvia under certain unpleasant news. A study concluded that in spite of Union of Green and Farmers minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola’s praised tax reform the grey economy proportion in Latvia has increased.

Regional Ventas Balss newspaper’s editor punished for reporting false news

On 17 May, Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court found Ventas Balss newspaper’s editor Gundega Mertena guilty of reporting false news in the article «Material 'Confession of Lembergs’ troll' is a 100% made-up story», which was published on pietiek.com portal on23 September 2018.

Court enforces 1 000 euros from Ušakovs for Riga City Council deputy

Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court has declined suspended Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs plea against Riga City Council deputy Vilnis Ķirsis over supposedly offensive statements the latter made against the plaintiff.

Latvian minister proposes re-assessing prosecutor general’s professionalism

Latvia’s Justice Ministry has noticed signs that suggest Prosecutor General Ēriks Kalnmeiers is not fit to remain in his post, as there are suspicions regarding his reputation, Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns told journalists on 17 May.

Estonia’s Nordica ended 2018 with EUR 2 million in losses

Estonia’s national air carrier registered considerable losses in 2018, reaching EUR 2,3 million in unconsolidated losses.

U.S.-pardoned whistle-blower Manning sent back to prison

A United States grand jury has ordered back to confinement Chealsea Manning, the former American military intelligence analyst, who spent seven years in prison in a Wikileaks-related case before being released by the decision of former U.S.

Privatization Agency: Latvian Railways chairman is baselessly speculating about privatization

«A lot of speculations and incorrect statements containing the word ‘privatization’ are coming from Latvian Railways (LDz) board chairman Edvīns Bērziņš. He is trying to divert attention in his corporate conflict away from the company board’s relations with shareholders,» BNN was told by Privatization Agency (PA) board chairman Vladimirs Loginovs.

International police effort dismantles GozNym gang of cyber criminals

An international criminal network that used GozNym malware in an attempt to steal an estimated USD 100 million from more than 41 000 victims, mostly businesses and their financial institutions, has been dismantled in a joint police operation.

Prediction: Latvia’s new concert hall will recover investments in 15 years

In the first 15 years after construction of Latvia’s new National Acoustic Concert Hall it will earn Latvia’s national economy a total of EUR 107.6 million, fully compensating investments and creating additional profits of EUR 17.6 million.

Poland fights child abuse with prison sentences up to 30 years

Polish legislators have extended prison terms for convicted paedophiles to a maximum 30 years. The Catholic country’s child abuse scandals have been underscored by a new documentary on such crimes by Polish priests.

Money intended for child protection used instead to pay bonuses to officials in Latvia

Welfare Ministry’s allocated state budget funding of EUR 619 000 was used, among other things, to pay bonuses to officials for obvious everyday tasks even though initially it was implied that employees of the ministry and State Child Protection Inspectorate (SCPI) would perform some specific tasks to prevent child and family abuse.

Meteorologists promise air temperature will soon reach +26° C in Latvia

On Friday, 17 May, there will be plenty of sun and clouds. Western regions may experience some rainfall. Wind will draw in from the east, reaching 13 m/sec in Kurzeme, as reported by Latvia’s State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Construction commences in Estonian-Latvian 3rd interconnection project

By raising the first supports of the new high-voltage Estonian-Latvian 3rd interconnection, Latvia’s Augstsprieguma tīkls (AST) has commenced the next step in the high-voltage power line project for a new 330 kV power line from Riga TEC-2 all the way to Kilingi-Nõmme substation in Estonia, as confirmed by AST.

Riga Tourism Development Bureau may have caused damages worth EUR 300 000

As a result of criminal activities Riga Tourism Development Bureau has caused damages worth no less than EUR 300 000, according to initial estimates.