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Sunday 05.04.2020 | Name days: Vidaga, Aivija, Vija

BNN summary of the week: Cigarette mafia. Promises in Riga City Council. Rail Baltica in danger

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Latvia, Lithiuania, Estonia, Norway, Liepaja, intestinal infection, fish, Rail Baltica, cigarettes, Riga, doctors, wages, Healthcare Ministry, Harmony, For Riga!, ultimatum, Oļegs Burovs, recommended Last week’s so-called cigarette mafia scandal really took off – the actual volumes of this illegal activity were revealed thanks to work performed by journalists and police. The revelation appeared as something from the ‘90s – not only contraband cigarettes but also different currencies of case, firearms, ammunition and complete contempt for the law.

After the scandal, people in leading positions in both Riga City Council and the government glanced at each other and exchanged accusations of negligence. What happened also forced government representatives to consider stricter penalties for traders of contraband cigarettes.

Meanwhile, deputies of Riga City Council continue making promises. On 28 November, Burovs said it would be possible to form a coalition with deputies of For Riga! bloc, ex-National Alliance representative Baiba Broka. The mayor said there are vacant postings, making it clear that potential allies might get something from this. On the same day, however, the offered pie pieces no longer seemed all that attractive to potential coalition members and the meeting fell through as neither For Riga! bloc members nor Harmony members showed up.

62 employees of Baltic joint company RB Rail reported problematic news about the state of Rail Baltica project, outlining poor management and conflicts of interest. RB Rail employees propose handing supervision over the project to the prime minister, adding that the current state of management does not provide appropriate implementation of the project.

Latvian doctors also organized a repeated protest outside the Saeima, demanding not only dismissal of Healthcare Minister Ilze Viņķele but also Finance Minister Jānis Reirs. However, it seems the government’s ship is moving forward – Latvia’s President Egils Levits has announced the country’s budget for 2020 and Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has asked the healthcare minister to work on a new wage model for doctors.

The BNN gives you a summary of the key events of the past week, told in news stories of the following topics: Cigarette mafia; Promises in Riga; Warning calls; Request for solution; Repeated infection; Running from a wolf; Bad fish.


Central market’s «cigarette mafia»: trade turnover estimated around EUR 5.6 million

Aizliegtais paņēmiens, contraband cigarettes, search, Riga Central Market, State PoliceContraband cigarettes are sold at Riga Central Market in at least ten illegal trade locations, as reported by LTV programme Aizliegtais paņēmiens.

The programme uncovered illegal cigarette trading locations by having a journalist «infiltrate» the market. At first the journalist sold clothes and observed everything from the side. Then the journalist earned the trust of illegal cigarette traders and became part of the «cigarette mafia».

The programme found out that every location, some of which have a front as clothes stores, has its own chief and largely trade locations are controlled by Armenians – the market has a well-organized ‘cigarette mafia’.

A single illegal cigarette store sells 70 to 120 blocks if cigarettes. On good days, sales of a single such location reach EUR 2 000.

The programme reports that there is a scheme in place to ensure a large number of cigarettes does not remain at illegal stores at the end of the day. Cigarettes are distributed differently among small kiosks: one stores blocks behind closed doors, another has only a couple of blocks, and another has only cigarette packs.

Aizliegtais paņēmiens notes that such a scheme is used specifically to minimize the loss of illegal cigarettes in the event of police raid. Cigarettes are delivered from some warehouse to Riga’s centre – cars park a little bit further from the market itself (police have already figured out when and where to expect them). Instead cars park near the central building of the University of Latvia or LU Faculty of Law.

Full article here


Ultimatums from Harmony and For Riga! bloc slow Burovs’ efforts to form coalition

Oļegs Burovs, Riga City Council, coalition, Honour to Serve Riga, Harmony, For Riga!

Riga City Council chairman Oļegs Burovs (L) and Riga Forests board member Aivars Tauriņš (R)

The political party Honour to Serve Riga has not agreed to multiple conditions set by Harmony and For Riga! bloc for the formation of a new coalition in Riga City Council. This includes Harmony condition to create a third vice-mayor post, as well as the party’s proposed changes to the approach for supervision of businesses.

Because of the mayor’s party’s refusal, the two parties decided to boycott the meeting of Thursday, 28 November.

As journalists were told by Mayor of Riga Oļegs Burovs, politics is an art of compromise, but every compromise has a limit and a price. He confirmed that Honour to Serve Riga had previously reached an agreement with For Riga! bloc and Harmony that the seat of vice-mayor of Riga could be given to Druvis Kleins, the seat in Riga Freeport authority – to Oskars Putniņš, and the seat of the head of the City Development Committee – to independent deputy Baiba Broka. At the same time, there was also the agreement that Kleins would supervise the public transport company SIA Rīgas satiksme.

Full article here


Rail Baltica employees: the project is in critical state due to poor management

Karolis Sankovskis, Rail Baltica, RB Rail, Transport Ministry, Tālis LinkaitsThe Rail Baltica railway project is in a critical state due to poor corporate management and conflict of interests, as outlined by 62 employees of AS RB Rail joint Baltic company in a public statement.

«In spite of major progress accomplished in the project, we are very worried that Rail Baltica, which is generously co-financed by the European Union, has ended up in a critical state because of poor corporate management and conflict of interests,» the statement mentions.

Employees say that on 30 October, following the CEO stepping down, they sent a joint statement to offices of the three Baltic prime ministers and transport ministries, requesting immediate action because the CEO’s and technical director’s sudden departure, which is the fifth replacement of the high-rank officials in the past 14 months, makes them question the quality of the project’s organization.

«This is why he sent this letter and why we are now publishing the previous statement from employees. We believe residents of the three Baltic States deserve to know this. We also believe Baltic prime ministers will address this situation during next week’s trilateral meeting,» the statement mentions.

RB Rail employees propose submitting supervision over the project to prime ministers, stressing that the current fractured state of supervision does not provide for efficient implementation and coordination of the project between public and private sector’s structures on a national and regional level, nor does it contribute to inter-industrial synergy.

Full article here


Prime minister asks healthcare minister to come up with new wage model for doctors

budget 2020, funding, doctors, Latvia, wages

Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš

Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has ordered Healthcare Minister Ilze Viņķele to prepare ideas for a new wage model for doctors by the end of January 2020, as confirmed by the State Chancellery.

On Tuesday, 26 November, the two members of the government discussed ways to improve Latvia’s healthcare system.

In December Kariņš wants a report from Viņķele about the progress of the healthcare system’s reform, as well as proposals for its improvements, considering the situation currently observed in the sector.

By 31 January Healthcare Ministry is expected to prepare an offer for a new wage model for doctors to ensure transparency and a unified wage system, as well as prevent any existing problems with its fairness.

The prime minister and healthcare minister agreed that at the 10 December meeting of the Cabinet of Minister Viņķele will present a hospital network model in accordance with healthcare institutions’ service levels in order to provide equal and quality service in the entire country.

Full article here


70 people receive acute intestinal infection in Liepaja

Liepaja, intestinal infection, Baltic Restaurants Latvia, SPKC, PVD70 people who dined at Baltic Restaurant, which is located on the territory of Lauma Fabrics company, fell ill with acute intestinal infection in Liepaja, as reported by Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC) representative Ilze Arāja.

She says SPKC received information about large scale infection in Liepaja from the Food and Veterinary Service (PVD) on 28 November. SPKC has commenced an epidemiological investigation in Liepaja, Ziemeļu street 19.

More information will be reported soon.

PVD representative Ilze Meistere notes that when multiple employees did not show up to work because they felt ill after having lunch at a cafeteria managed by Baltic Restaurants Latvia, the management of Lauma Lingeries and Baltic Restaurants Latvia simultaneously reported the situation to PVD, which has commenced an inspection at the company’s cafeteria.

«PVD passed this information to SPKC, which has also commenced an epidemiological investigation to determine the cause of the illness,» said Meistere.

Baltic Restaurants Latvia has ceased operations because of the investigation, said Meistare.

Full article here


Lithuanian truck drivers exploited in Norway, Lithuanian broadcaster reports

Vlantana Norge, Lietuva, tālbraucēji, kravas auto šoferi, Norvēģija

Around 200 Lithuanian cargo truck drivers have allegedly been victims of gross labour law abuse as they were employed in Norway by a company, founded by Lithuanians, as reported by LRT’s investigative journalists.

Lithuanian public broadcaster ERR report on Tuesday, November 26, that Vlantana Norge AS, established in 2012, is the 12-14th largest Norwegian freight haulage firm and one of the largest foreign-capital firms in the sector.

One of the two drivers who sued the company and were recently paid a 209,000-euro settlement, chose to speak to LRT Investigation Team, revealing the scale and scope of the alleged abuse at the company where the 200 drivers are all from Lithuania.

Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority has previously said it is very likely that the drivers’ work at Vlantana Norge was systematically underpaid, and that the documents with officially declared hours were forged.

In November, the criminal division of Norway’s transport inspectorate that investigated Vlantana Norge said the company may have committed crimes.

Full article here


Estonian fish factories closed after lethal cases of food poisoning

M.V.Wool, Estonia, fish processing, food safetyFood safety watchdog in Estonia has ordered the closure of two factories of the fish processing company M.V.Wool in relation to the presence of listeria bacteria blamed for several deaths in the country and abroad, ERR reports.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports on Thursday, November 28, that the country’s Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) ordered the facilities, in Harku and Vihterpalu, to close on Monday, November 25.

It resulted in staff taking forced leave starting Tuesday, November 26, after a strain of listera microorganisms reappeared that have been blamed for links to two deaths in Estonia and several more Europe-wide.

The food safety watchdog has also ordered the destruction of the company’s entire stock.

Full article here

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Coronavirus in Baltics. 509 in Latvia, 771 in Lithuania, 1 018 in Estonia

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airBaltic to cancel up to 50% of planned flights until November 2020

As the crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic continues in Latvia, the country’s national airline airBaltic has decided to cancel nearly 50% of planned flights until November 2020, as reported by the airline’s representative Alise Briede.

Latvian government increases penalty for breach of COVID-19 restrictions

On Thursday, 3 April, Latvia’s Saeima approved amendments to the Latvian Code of Administrative Violations in the final reading. The new changes increase the fine for violation of epidemiological security requirements, as well as restrictions imposed for the duration of the state of emergency in the country.

Estonian government to help local governments with supplementary budget

The Estonian government has submitted to legislators a supplementary budget aimed at allocating to local governments 30 million euros and another 100 million to help continue economic activity in the country, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports.

Home. Soap. Two metres – SPKC reminds residents of the main safety measures

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Belarus rejects Lithuania’s worries about alleged hiding of COVID-19 data

Minsk has rejected the concern voiced by Lithuania that alleged inadequate reaction to the spread of COVID-19 in Belarus could turn the country into a hotspot, which endangers Lithuania, LRT reports.

COVID-19 pandemic and corruption risks. How can government and society defend against them?

During a state of emergency, it is important for the Saeima, Cabinet of Ministers, Crisis Management Council and other officials to make decisions quickly and ensure completion. However, in such a situation there is a risk of dishonest officials abusing their powers for personal gain, risking the quality of democracy.

First death from COVID-19 confirmed in Latvia

The first death from COVID-19 coronavirus has been found in Latvia, as reported by public media

UN General Assembly calls for closer cooperation to contain pandemic

World’s nations in the UN General Assembly have unanimously passed a resolution confirming the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 and calling countries for increased cooperation, Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera reports.

COVID-19 update in Baltics. 493 infection cases in Latvia, 696 in Lithuania, 961 in Estonia

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latvia has reached 493, increasing by 35 in the past day. Lithuania, meanwhile, reports 696 confirmed cases. According to the latest information from Estonia, the number of confirmed infection cases there has reached 858.

Budget revenue in Latvia approximately 7% behind plan in March

With the spread of COVID-19 crisis in March Latvia’s state budget revenue has dropped 7.2% behind the plan, according to unofficial information from LETA.

Global number of COVID-19 cases exceeds one million

Globally, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has exceeded one million and the death toll related to the infectious disease is 52 500, German public broadcaster DW reports.

Latvia prohibits exports of medicines needed during state of emergency

Exports of medicines vital for the domestic market during state of emergency will be prohibited in Latvia, according to the order published in the Latvian Herald by Healthcare Minister Ilze Viņķele.

COVID-19 prompts Latvian government to involve army in border patrol with Belarus

Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabriks has issued an order for Latvian National Armed Forces (NBS) to provide support to the State Border Guard by sending national guardsmen to organize additional patrolling of the Latvian-Belarusian border, as confirmed by the minister.

Lithuania puts COVID-19-related prosecution above human rights

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Idleness rules will apply to companies with tax debts in Latvia

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Court to enforce nearly 12 000 euros from Gobzems for defaming Bunkus family

Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court has partially satisfied the plea from the surviving members of the family of the murdered lawyer Mārtiņš Bunkus against Saeima deputy Aldis Gobzems over defamation. The court has decided to enforce EUR 11 833 from him, as confirmed from the deputy.

Spain registers unprecedented job loss as lethal cases of COVID-19 exceed 10 000

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Emīls Jakrins becomes board chairman of restaurant business company Vincents

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Jānis Vitenbergs approved in Latvia’s Economy Minister's post

On Thursday, 2 April, Latvia’s Saeima approved parliamentarian Jānis Vitenbergs as the country’s economy minister.

Large mine closes in Estonia after one of 800 miners tested positive for COVID-19

In Estonia, it has been decided to close one of two large oil shale mines after one miner tested positive for COVID-19, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports.

COVID-19 update in Baltics. 458 cases in Latvia, 649 in Lithuania, 858 in Estonia

The number of confirmed COVID-19 infection cases in Latvia has reached 458, growing by 12 cases in the past day. Meanwhile, Lithuanian media report 649 confirmed coronavirus infection cases.

Germany to keep gathering restrictions past Easter

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the situation with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Germany is far from being over as the government extended its strict rules for gathering in public places until April 19, DW reports.

Shuttle buses and express buses on hold in Riga

LLC Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme has decided to shut down shuttle bus services on all routes in Riga until the state of emergency in Latvia is over, as confirmed by RMS.

Latvian government to finance COVID-19 crisis prevention efforts from state budget

Efforts to overcome the direct negative effects from COVID-10 crisis will be financed from the state budget. After the crisis, however, the economy will be stimulated using EU funds, as decided by Finance Minister Jānis Reirs’ led work group for support of entrepreneurship and the employed on Wednesday, 1 April.

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