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Wednesday 20.11.2019 | Name days: Anda, Andīna

BNN summary of the week: cartel scandal; Lithuania's food vouchers; Estonian party's financial problems

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThis week’s biggest piece of news in Latvia is associated with the so-called ‘cartel case’ involving major construction companies. There is also the possibility of the range of involved companies expanding further. According to existing information, then the prime minister of Latvia Māris Kučinskis was aware of the growing problem. With the cartel case Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) has interviewed ex-president of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis and ex-Saeima deputy Ingmārs Līdaka. It is also allowed that this scandal may have caused an increase of construction costs in Latvia on top of everything else.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s Agriculture Ministry has decided to drop the initiative on adoption of an electronic food voucher system. Initially it was intended to assist with countryside development but it was met with dislike by residents and public organizations.

Estonia’s Green Party, on the other hand, faces financial difficulties. Estonian political parties’ financing supervisor has recommended the party to commence a bankruptcy process, saying that the party is unlikely to crawl from lasting financial difficulties.

BNN provides a news summary about the key events of the week, including such topics as Investigation, Hope, Surprise, Decline, Announcement, Disappointment, Amount, Memories.


Latvia’s KNAB interviews current and former owners of high-profile construction companies

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

On Tuesday, 3 September, Armands Garkāns, co-owner of construction company Arčers and road construction company Binders, was seen at the office of Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), as reported by LETA.

The agency observed him leaving KNAB office, but he did not provide any comments to journalists. Public broadcaster LTV reports that Garkāns denies having been given any status.

LTV also reports that KNAB office was visited by ex-board chairman of construction company SIA Skonto Būve Guntis Rāvis, who did not provide any reasons for his visit to KNAB. Aside from those two, KNAB was visited by LNK Group board chairman Artjoms Milovs. However, according to LNK Group, his visit was associated with the case related to the 2016 Island Bridge reconstruction case, not the recent cartel scandal.

LTV also noticed how the lawyer of the scandalous businessman Māris Martinsons arrived at KNAB office around noon. It is worth mentioning that the aforementioned gentleman is involved in multiple criminal processes. His lawyer did not say if he had arrived at the office of the law enforcement institution to defend his client.

Full article here


Moneyval report on Latvia may be changed no sooner than 2023

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European Council’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism Moneyval and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may change their report on the situation in Latvia’s financial sector no sooner than 2023, said deputy state secretary to Interior Affairs Ministry’s and the prime minister’s work group’s vice-chairman Jānis Bekmanis at a meeting of Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee’s Finance Sector’s Supervisory Sub-committee.

«It is important to understand that the report on Latvia will not be changed in February 2020. Moneyval and FATF gave Latvia a task that needs to be completed by 2023. February is the time when it will be decided if Latvia is working in the correct direction. If they conclude that we have accomplished nothing, the assessment will be reduced and Latvia will be added to the so-called grey list. If our accomplishments receive a positive score, we can expect recommendations on what we should do in the future,» explained Bekmanis.

He informed members of the Saeima that the first step to make Latvia compliant with FATF standards has been made.

«We received specific indications that of the 40 technical standards we are partially compliant with ten and almost compliant with 16. We are halfway – the technical report has been set to Moneyval secretariat. Now experts from Slovenia and Montenegro will report on Latvia’s accomplishments. We will maintain active communication with the secretariat to provide answers to questions they might have. Thanks to the work done by the government and the Saeima on enormous legislative acts, Latvia has requested its score to be upgraded by 20 recommendations,» said Bekmanis.

Full article here


Mayor Oļegs Burovs takes charge over Riga Freeport

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Mayor of Riga Oļegs Burovs

Riga’s Mayor Oļegs Burovs has been appointed as the new chairman of the board of Riga Freeport, as BNN was told by the freeport’s representatives.

Burovs promises to pay extra attention to economic affairs and the port’s already initiated infrastructure development projects in an effort to have the port develop at the same pace as the city.

«Riga Freeport has an inseparable part of Riga since the city’s very foundation and it remains one of its main economic pillars,» comments Burovs. «Our goal is managing the port in a way to secure the biggest possible social and financial contribution to the city, its residents and the country as a whole, while also maintaining environment protection requirements.»

Full article here


You go bankrupt – Estonian greens recommended to wind down

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The Estonian party funding watchdog has suggested the Estonian Green Party to go bankrupt seeing it has been unable recover from persistent and large debt.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reported on Wednesday, September 4, that the party has been working with losses since 2010.

In October 2018, the Estonian Supervisory Committee on Party Financing (ERJK) issued the party with a precept ordering it to repay its long-term debts to creditors, on the grounds they are considered prohibited donations. The Greens challenged the injunction in court, but the latter upheld the ERJK’s decision in late June this year.

ERJK chair Liisa Oviir (SDE) commented that the large and increasing debt burden, estimated at 46,000 euros in the first half of 2019, illustrated the party is not financially viable.

Full article here


Lithuania U-turns on food voucher plan

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Lithuanian Minister of Agriculture Andrius Palionis

The Lithuanian Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to implement a government-planned food voucher programme to support families and retailers of local produce in the countryside. It believes funds could be spent more efficiently.

Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reported on Wednesday, September 4, citing the ministry that the voucher programme, which was to be piloted next year and was aimed at supporting small businesses and families with small children, would cost the government up to 14 million euros.

The new Lithuanian Minister of Agriculture Andrius Palionis has previously criticised the scheme, saying the funds could be used more efficiently.

Food vouchers would have been part of the rural development programme. The Ministry of Agriculture has noted that it will continue with the programme’s goals: encouraging cooperation among farmers and sales of local produce.

Full article here


Latvia’s ruling coalition committed to finding compromise in budget planning

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Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš

Nothing in the next year’s budget formation process has been turned down yet. However, nothing has been provided with unanimous support either, journalists were told by Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš after a government meeting on Monday, 2 September.

The prime minister stressed that ruling parties continue their «interesting and equally complicated» work in the next three-year budget. «We are trying to be innovative – to look at not only the next year but also the next three years and how our decisions will influence the coming years,» the prime minister said.

Kariņš said the process is not simple, especially considering that each party has its own priorities. «On the one hand parties agree that this and that is important, but on the other hand – there is not enough money to afford everything,» he said, adding that politicians of the coalition are trying to discuss what the government should do to make the lives of residents better.

«We are not engaged in irresponsible activities, taking numbers without justifications. All partners have presented justified arguments, but the difficulty is with reaching a compromise. The process continues, and as long as there is no agreement on all important matters, individual tasks will not be outlined,» said Kariņš without revealing any agreements.

«We have not said any clear no or yes to any proposal so far,» said the prime minister. At the moment, coalition partners are actively discussing how much money it is possible to allocate for which activities. Coalition partners have different views on this.

Full article here


Fee for home delivery of pensions or benefits in Latvia to double next year

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From 2020 onward the fee charged by Latvian Post for home delivery of pension, benefit or remuneration paid by State Social Insurance Agency (VSAA) will be EUR 4.88, which is double of the current fee, whereas from 2021 onward this service will cost EUR 5.28, as journalists were told by VSAA director Inese Šmitiņa.

She said that Latvian Post won in the procurement of delivery services. Latvian Post was only the sole candidate.

«The contract is signed for two years – 2020 and 2021. It is important to inform people in advance, because some people may decide to opt out this option,» said Šmitiņa.

«The price of the service will be EUR 2.39 until the end of the year. Starting with 1 January 2019, however, it will increase to EUR 4.88. 2021 onward, however, it will increase even more – EUR 5.28,» she added.

According to VSAA, the number of pension, benefit and remuneration recipients in Latvia who choose to have money delivered to their home is currently rapidly declining. This has a significant effect on the service’s self-cost. For example, in 2013 pensions were delivered to the homes of 127 000 people in Latvia. In 2018 pensions were delivered to 85 000 people, whereas in the first months of 2019 pensions were delivered to 79 000 people, which is 14% of all pension recipients.

Full article here


Media suggests amount of «dirty money» in ABLV Bank may exceed one billion euros

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The possible amount of illegally obtained funds in ABLV Bank exceeds EUR 1 billion, according to Ir magazine.

This much was confirmed to Ir magazine by two independent and unrelated sources.

Since spring 2018, when ABLV Bank was closed, Latvian State Police has had a lot of work. Information related to this bank, its clients and employees is being analysed in close cooperation with Financial Intelligence Service.

«It is priority number one for us,» Ir magazine was told by State Police Economic Crimes Enforcement Office Chief Pēteris Bauska. His office is in the process of investigating eight criminal processes associated with ABLV Bank, but this may not be the end of it.

Several investigative groups have been composed. On top of that, we have founded a new form of cooperation this summer – once every couple of weeks representatives of police, prosecutor’s office and Financial Intelligence Service gather to discuss progress and future plans. Bauska did not comment on the matter in more detail. He did promise, however, «to do everything in our power and then some».

ABLV Bank still has not commenced repayment of deposits. This is because it is first necessary to determine the origin of said money. Unfortunately, institutions have yet to reach an agreement on the most appropriate methodology to check the origin of said money, Ir magazine notes.

Full article here


Valentīns Kokalis details secret talks held in Lembergs’ hunting lodge and backstage political puppetry

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Valentīns Kokalis

«Jurijs Bespalovs was one of the first to speak out against Aivars Lembergs. But he could not take the pressure. Falling to his knees, he begged to not be punished. Meanwhile Lembergs told us at one meeting – watch out so that it doesn’t happen to any of you! Who else could drop to their knees before me and cry?»

Once one of Lembergs’ trusted people, ex-prosecutor of Ventspils, once the vice-president of Ventspils Nafta, as well as board chairman of SIA LatRosTrans Valentīns Kokalis, who later decided to oppose the system formed against him, shares in an open conversation with journalist Simona Šjadīte information about the backstage of Lembergs’ politics, influence over State Revenue Service (SRS), and how the man accused of committing serious crimes had blasted Latvia’s prime ministers with curse words.

It should be said that the aforementioned Bespalovs, who was once a board member of Ventamonjaks, was a very important witness in Lembergs’ criminal case. He was supposed to testify on 5 April 2012, but this was not to be. He died of acute heart failure the day prior – 4 April.

Conversations at Lembergs’ hunting lodge – hard to list the people who hadn’t been there!

«After one of many Saeima elections Lembergs brought with him a sheet of paper with a list and named a quota – we need our own economy minister, who should be put? I told Aivars – you! He said – not me. Let’s put you, Valentīns. I tell him – I’m a lawyer, what can I do? I recommended Krists Skuja. He says – no, no. Who’s the economist at Ventamonjaks? Strujevičs. Oh, let’s put him. And so the officials were appointed,» Kokalis recalls the conversations held at Lembergs’ hunting lodge.

And so Laimonis Strujevičs served as Latvia’s Economy Minister between 4 May and 26 November 1998. His legal affairs advisor was Andris Bumbieris. The latter committed suicide later in 1998.

In 1998 Skuja was appointed president of Ventamonjaks. He died of heart failure in 2009. He was considered one of the coordinators of Lembergs’ «black» finances and a person who provided contacts with politicians.

Full article here

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Terrorist attack victim numbers decline, but many countries remain at risk of terrorism

The number of people who died in terrorist attacks around the world had dropped 15.2% in 2018. Nevertheless, the number of countries that are under risk of terrorist attacks has only increased since then, as reported by the Institute for Economics and Peace on Tuesday, 20 November.

Swedish TV: U.S. investigates Swedbank over violations of Russia sanctions

With U.S. and European Union’s sanctions banned from cooperating with Russian weapon maker Kalashnikov, Swedbank has been involved in sending large sums between the shareholders of the Russian firm and the owner of Kalashnikov USA, Swedish television SVT reports.

Saeima’s committee views residents’ request on postponing increase of party funding

On Wednesday, 20 November, Saeima’s Mandates, Ethics and Submissions Committee conceptually supported the legislative draft on the initiative signed by more than 11 000 residents in regards to the significant increase of funding for political parties and its submission to the parliament’s Budget Committee for review.

Estonia sees no alternative to NATO and says it’s strong

Estonia’s top diplomate Urmas Reinsalu has announced prior to a meeting with counterparts from other NATO nations that he considers the alliance strong and sees no alternatives to it.

Supplying all Latvian residents with food would cost nearly EUR 12 million per day

In the event of a threat to the state, supplying Latvian residents with food would cost the state budget approximately EUR 12 million per day, according to estimates from Agriculture Ministry, which were performed in line with adoption of a comprehensive state security system.

State Revenue Service employees’ «glances» at sensitive files and symbolic penalties

Employees of Latvia’s State Revenue Service have been punished multiple times for leaking sensitive data in the past. People received insignificant disciplinary penalties while the leaked information may have ended up in the hands of less than honest people. Why is it that state security matters protected as well as empty hockey gates and who should be held responsible?

Malta arrests businessman in journalist murder case

Maltese authorities have arrested in the murder case of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on Wednesday a well-known entrepreneur Yorgen Fenech. Police and Fenech himself have not yet commented publicly on the operation

Latvia’s finance minister bets on tax reform to find money for healthcare

To find necessary funding for healthcare, Latvia’s Finance Minister Jānis Reirs proposes creating «a fair system» in the context of the expected tax reform in which all employed taxpayers will be able to participate.

Levits: Principle of irresponsibility is entrenched in Latvia

Latvian President Egils Levits, discussing the issue of doctor wages in the country, has said: «We have developed for a long time a mechanism of irresponsibility». The head of state gave an interview to Latvijas Televīzija’s programme Rīta Panorāma on Wednesday, November 20.

Riga Mayor ready to resign, if no new majority in City Council

Riga Mayor Oļegs Burovs is looking for a new majority after cooperation with his party has been stopped by Harmony party. If no new majority is established, Burovs would resign, he said in an interview with Latvijas Radio.

Lithuanian firefighters protest over low pay and outdated equipment

Lithuanian firefighters have reminded of government commitments in the field in a protest in Vilnius over the average wage of 430 euros and outdated equipment.

Sweden discontinues investigation into Wikileaks Assange over rape

Swedish investigators have decided to end investigation into Julian Assange, the whistle-blower organisation Wikileaks, over alleged rape that has been upheld since 2010.

Saeima committee: reorganization of small state institutions does not yield results

«Evaluation and reorganization of small and very small state institutions so far has not given us desired results. This is because there has not been a reduction of the number of state institution employees or funding,» said chairman of Saeima’s Public Expenditures and Audit Committee Kaspars Ģirģens.

Minister: pressure is needed, but the message of LVSADA’s protest is unclear

Pressure from doctors will be needed in the future, but the message of the protest organized by Latvian Trade Union of Health and Social Care Workers is unclear, Latvia’s Healthcare Minister Ilze Viņķele told journalists on Tuesday, 19 November.

While Kļaviņš penalized for fraud with compensations, Lembergs uses expensive cars for state funds

Two very similar cases in which state and municipal resources are used for private needs. However, Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau has two diametrically opposing judgements. While last year’s reported violation committed by Askolds Kļaviņš by misappropriating nearly EUR 10 000 of state budget funds was declared a crime, Aivars Lembergs’ use of expensive cars is not considered a crime in KNAB’s eyes.

EU bodies agree on bloc’s budget for 2020

The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament have reached an agreement on the bloc’s budget for 2020, which has a planned increase in spending and the United Kingdom as a fully contributing member state.

Latvian government decides to divert hospitals’ profits for infrastructure development

The government has decided to allow capital associations in which Healthcare Ministry is a shareholder to divert clean profits and dividends for 2018 towards improvement of infrastructure, as confirmed by Healthcare Ministry.

57 children receive intestinal infections at Smiltene’s secondary school

According to deputy principal of Secondary School in Smiltene Inese Raiskuma, 57 children have received virus-induced intestinal infections.

Anti-money laundering: SEB says most suspicious clients from Estonia operations

Swedish investigative journalists, who are looking into suspicions of money laundering, have submitted to the pan-Baltic banking group SEB a list with 194 people, the company has announced.

Demanding Saeima’s and Viņķele’s dismissal, doctors announce another strike

Latvian Trade Union of Health and Social Care Workers has plans to organize a new protest act outside the Saeima on 28 November. The protest will demand the parliament’s dismissal, as well as voice distrust towards Healthcare Minister Ilze Viņķele.

«Was never fit for vice-mayor’s post.» Baraņņiks loses post in Riga City Council

With votes from opposition deputies, Riga City Council’s Vice-Chairman Vadims Baraņņiks was removed from his post on Tuesday, 19 November. He was also removed from his post in Riga Freeport board.

Kundziņsala overpass construction splits Riga Freeport authority over cartel case

Last week, Riga Freeport authority decided to sign a contract worth nearly EUR 40 million on the construction of Kundziņsala transport overpass with companies that have ties with people involved in the so-called construction cartel case, as reported by LTV programme De Facto.

Tusk kept reminding EU of Russia being «strategic problem», not partner

European Council’s outgoing chairman Donald Tusk has in a speech devoted to his five years in office revealed that he had to remind member states that Russia was Europe’s «strategic problem», instead of being its strategic partner.

In Hong Kong protests, 400 people arrested

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests a standoff between activists and riot police continues at a university, where around 600 protesters have surrendered and 400 have been arrested, local authorities say.

Riga City Council opposition will likely refrain from Baraņņiks’ dismissal vote

On Tuesday, 19 November, the opposition of Riga City Council will likely abstain or not participate at all in the vote regarding the dismissal of the city council’s vice-chairman Vadims Baraņņiks, as told by For Latvia’s Development faction chairman Viesturs Zeps.

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