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Sunday 26.01.2020 | Name days: Agneta, Agnis, Ansis

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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Development of areas along Rail Baltica line will require investments worth EUR 300 million

In order to implement infrastructure development projects along Rail Baltica line in Riga, it will be necessary to secure investments up to EUR 350 million in the next ten-year period, as reported by Riga City Council chairman Oļegs Burovs.

Olainfarm shareholders fail to convene due to lack of quorum

Because of the lack of quorum, the extraordinary meeting of Olainfarm shareholders originally scheduled for Friday, 24 January, did not take place. It was planned to discuss changes to the company council during this meeting, as reported by the company’s representative Ieva Lapiņa-Ennīte.

EY: investors more optimistic about Latvia’s economic competitiveness

Last year, investors’ opinion of the competitiveness of Latvia’s economy improved for nearly all indexes, as reported by EY Latvija representatives.

Bulgaria accuses three Russian citizens for poisoning of arms producer

Three Russian citizens have been charged by Bulgaria over the attempted murder of an arms producer and another two Bulgarians using a poison. One survivor believes there is a link with the poisoning of the Skripals in the United Kingdom.

Ignoring sanctions, Ventspils City Council approves budget created under Lembergs’ watchful eye

In spite of sanctions imposed by USA, Ventspils City Council approved the city’s budget for 2020, which came to be under absolute influence from Aivars Lembergs, on Thursday, 23 January, BNN was told by opposition deputy Aivis Landmanis.

Estonia eyes one-year prison sentence for first-time drunk drivers

Estonian government ministers have proposed harsher sanctions for drunk driving. Their initiative comes after three people got killed in a crash, where a heavily intoxicated driver was involved.

Latvian residents trust National Armed Forces the most and the Saeima the least

Latvia’s residents trust the country’s National Armed Forces and the president the most and the Saeima the least, according to the survey performed by Latvian National Security Academy’s Security and Strategic Research Centre.

In China, coronavirus claims more lives as transport limitations put in place

The Chinese outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus has reached the death toll of 26 people, meanwhile, authorities are trying to keep it from spreading introducing transport movement limitations in at least 10 cities.

Information about VDD new office building’s construction costs is a state secret

Although some media have mentioned different amounts of money the construction of a new office for the State Security Service at the location of former Marss cycling track may cost, the service reports that this information is considered a state secret.

Kariņš: Latvia is no longer the younger brother – our country’s voice is heard

Latvia is no longer the younger brother on the international arena – our country is heard and its opinion is taken seriously, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš at annual foreign policy debates on Thursday, 23 January.

Poland passes law on limiting public actions, statements of judges

The Polish Sejm has passed a draft law that sets forth limiting the say of judges over justice appointments, court reform and politics. The limitations have been widely criticised abroad.

Linkaits: banks once again service Ventspils Freeport terminals

The situation with Ventspils Freeport is gradually becoming more relaxed. On top of that, banks once again service port terminals there, as Latvian Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits affirmed in a conversation with journalists on Thursday, 23 January.

Aivars Lembergs picks ex-prime minister’s freelance advisor Grudulis as his lawyer for debates

The suspended Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs, who is also accused of committing serious crimes and is under US sanctions, has picked once the prime minister of Latvia Māris Kučinskis’ freelance advisor Māris Grudulis as his lawyer for debates in court, as was announced in court on Thursday, 23 January.

What is Lithuanian President’s main reason to skip Jerusalem Holocaust forum?

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has unexpectedly flip-flopped on where and how to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. First, he said he will attend the commemoration in Jerusalem, but then changed his mind to pay homage to the Jewish victims in Auschwitz, in Poland. The reason? Well, there is no clear official reason for that – President’s Office did not provide one.

Audit: Rail Baltica slowed by poor risk management and slow progress with municipalities

Delays and cost increase of Rail Baltica project is heavily affected by no risk management and no strategy, as well as slow progress in cooperation with municipalities and passive alienation of properties, Latvian State Audit concluded in its latest report.

China stops public transport in two cities over coronavirus

In China, a new strain of coronavirus has claimed the lives of 17 people. To keep it form spreading, local authorities have stopped the public transport to and from the cities of Wuhan and Huanggang.

BNN investigation | Rebenoks and Krieķis may have plans to return to Olainfarm board despite ties to serious crimes

Ex-Olainfarm officials Mārtiņš Krieķis and Pāvels Rebenoks, the latter also serving as Latvian Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro’s advisor, may return to the company’s board to, possibly, continue walking «well-travelled path» paved with non-transparent deals, according to information available to BNN.

In Estonia, forgetting to register child’s name can lead to municipality choosing it

Estonian law obliges parents to register the name of their child in a month’s time after giving birth. In the unlikely case of them being late, the law opens right to a local municipality to choose it.

Change of concept? Viesturs Kairišs becomes Dailes Theatre’s artistic director

Dailes Theatre’s board member Juris Žagars has picked Viesturs Kairišs as the theatre’s new artistic director, as journalists were told by Žagars on Thursday, 23 January.

Lukashenko: Belarus needs to diversify its oil imports, introducing Baltic supplies

As Minsk and Moscow are in talks to solve a dispute over the continuation of oil imports from Russia, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said that Russian supplies could be cut to 30-40% of Belarus’ total imports.

Minister does not exclude possibility of number of municipalities in Latvia increasing

The Administrative Territorial Reform offers reducing the number of municipalities to 39 in Latvia. Still, it is possible there may be one or two more, said Latvian Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce in an interview to LTV programme Rīta Panorāma on Thursday, 23 January.

Thirteen people die from influenza in Latvia

Three people died from influenza in Latvia last week, increasing the number of victims to 13 for this year’s flu season, according to monitoring data of acute upper respiratory tract infections published by Disease Prevention and Control Centre.

Lithuania tries to halt haulage firm exodus to Poland with new tax

Lithuania is introducing a new «exit tax» to keep road haulage firms from relocating to other European Union member states. The firms say that other ways of moving business abroad will be used.

Corruption fighters: corruption perception indexes decline in Latvia in 2019

Latvia’s positions had worsened slightly in 2019 in global anti-corruption coalition Transparency International composed Corruption Perception Index.

UK parliament passes draft Brexit law

In London, the draft law on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has been finally passed by the Houses of Parliament after years of inability of British legislators to decide on their preferred way out of the bloc.

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