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Tuesday 19.03.2019 | Name days: Jāzeps
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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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Latvia’s 2020 budget draft sent to the parliament for first viewing

On Tuesday, 19 March, Latvian Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee conceptually supported this year’s state budget project and decided to submit it to the parliament for its first viewing. The committee decided to submit 14 additional legislative drafts associated with the budget, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

Minister: Latvia needs representatives in EP the country can be proud of

«Latvian voters should keep in mind that Latvia is represented by only eight members in the European Parliament. It is vital to find candidates we would not be ashamed of. There is no other recipe – if you want to affect the composition of the European Parliament, it is important to remember that results from votes. Nothing will change if we stand on the sidelines,» said Latvian Culture Minister and MEP candidate Dace Melbārde in an interview to BNN.

Rigvir medication distribution in Latvia halted temporarily

Bio-technology company Rigvir has decided to halt distribution of Rigvir medication in Latvia temporarily, as confirmed by Rigvir Group CEO Kristīne Jučkoviča.

Finance commission’s head says Latvia has too many banks for its small market

It is clear there are too many banks for Latvia’s domestic market, said chairman of Finance and Capital Market Commission Pēteris Putniņš in an interview to LTV programme Rīta Panorāma on Tuesday, 19 March.

Latvian residents become more optimistic about government’s work

In one month’s time Latvian residents’ opinion of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš’s government has improved, according to data from SKDS study.

Dutch authorities arrest Utrecht tram shooter

According to Dutch authorities, the man who opened fire in a tram in Utrecht, killing three and injuring five, has been arrested.

Parliament: Latvian universities should be among 500 best in the world

Latvia’s leading universities have a clear vision for the future. It is topical for continued development of the country’s education and science sector.

Latvian minister to request police investigation in public transport company

Latvia’s Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry has finished its analysis of the audit performed in municipal public transport company SIA Rīgas satiksme. Soon the ministry plans to ask law enforcement institutions to provide their opinion on whether or not there had been fictive employment or other violations committed by the company, as reported by TV3 news.

Latvian prime minister urges sorting the system, not raising taxes

A number of sectors require reforms to avoid raising taxes to increase revenue, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš during a meeting of Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, 18 March.

Stoltenberg calls NATO the most successful alliance in world history

NATO is the strongest, most successful alliance in history, wrote NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an article dedicated to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Heavy rainfall in Indonesia causes floods and landslides; death toll reaches 77

Approximately 77 people have been killed in mountain villages hit by floods and landslides caused by intense rainfall in Indonesia’s Papua Province, according to the latest information reported by Indonesian authorities.

Number of job vacancies in Latvia up 33.4% in 2018

In 2018, there were 22.7 thousand job vacancies in Latvia, which is 5.7 thousand vacancies or 33.4 % more than in 2017.

Swedbank: more than 1,400 Latvian families purchased property in regions last year

In 2018, Swedbank had issued more than 1,400 loans for property purchases within 50 km radius around Riga. This is an average of six loans issued every work day, as reported by Swedbank representative Jānis Krops.

Minister: Latvia may require radical image change because of finance sector’s problems

Considering the problems in the country’s finance sector, it will be necessary to work on radically changing the country’s image, says Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Riga Mayor’s wife suspected of dubious employed in public water supply company

For eight years Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs’ office manager Iveta Strautiņa-Ušakova worked as a consultant for municipal water supply company Rīgas Ūdens, as reported by LTV investigative journalism programme De Facto.

Latvian Centre Party to take part in European Parliament elections

A list of candidates compiled by Centre Party from Latvia has been submitted for European Parliament elections. The list is composed of fifteen candidates. This makes it the fifth list of candidates to be submitted for EP elections in Latvia so far, as reported by Central Election Commission.

Air temperature in Latvia to stay positive this week; more precipitation expected

Weather will be dominated by cyclone activity this week. Wind speed will also increase in the country’s western parts in the first half of the week. At the end of the week, air temperature to become chilly at night, as reported by Latvian State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Week in Lithuania. N-plant invites bids for repository construction contract

Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, which was shut down a decade ago and is now being decommissioned, invited bids for the construction of a 100-million-euro near surface repository for low and intermediate level short-lived radioactive waste.

BNN summary of the week: when is Brexit? Estonia’s government worries; more problems with Rīgas satiksme

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Attempt; Decision; Investigation; Scandal; Legislation; Expectation.

Suspect in criminal case leaves post in Alkom-Trans

SIA Alkom-Trans chairman Aleksandrs Krjačeks, who is a suspect in a criminal case regarding SIA Rīgas satiksme’s procurements, has decided to step down, according to information from Lursoft.

Eurostat: Latvia had higher annual inflation than average in EU and Eurozone

In February 2019, Latvia’s inflation was higher than the average in European Union and Eurozone, according to data published by Eurostat on Friday, 15 March.

Harmony and New Harmony to compete for seats in European Parliament

Association of parties Alternative Party, which received only 0.34% support from voters in the recent Saeima elections, has decided to start in upcoming European Parliament elections with a new name – New Harmony, as reported by Latvijas Radio.

ABLV Bank’s liquidators recover assets worth EUR 37.938 million in February

In February 2019, liquidators of ABLV Bank had successfully recovered assets worth EUR 37.938 million, which is 21% less than a month prior, according to the annual account published in Latvian Herald.

Polish Catholic church reveals mass child sex abuse by clergy

The administration of the Polish Catholic Church has stated it has since 1990 registered child sex abuse affecting 625 underage victims by 382 clergymen. Poland's Catholic Church authorities revealed the data on Thursday, March 14.

Insurer: children receive 11% more injuries during school breaks

During school breaks the frequency at which children receive injuries is 11% higher when compared to the year’s average, according to data from BTA Baltic Insurance Company.