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Tuesday 25.09.2018 | Name days: Rauls, Rodrigo

BNN summary of the week: minister threatened with dismissal; ABLV Bank scandal

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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: Change; Fight; Court; Problem; Decline; Commentary; Future; Proposal

CHANGE: Entrepreneur: many small and medium-sized businesses could drown in stagnation this year

2018 will be very intense for Latvia’s economy. It is predicted that thanks to exports and European Union funds, money will slow into the country, unemployment will decline and wages will grow. Predictions seem rather positive. However, the picture will likely be rather different for small and medium-sized businesses, says Turība University’s Business Management faculty dean, businesswoman and board member of SIA Sky Port Zane Driņķe.

Small and medium-sized businesses’ dynamics not expected to experience major fluctuations in 2018

The expert notes that medium-sized businessmen, looking at the current situation in the country’s economy, may become curious as to where positive predictions may come from.

She says that there are several aspects to consider – the number of active small and medium-sized companies has been growing lately, especially in production sectors. The number of newly-founded businesses has been growing steadily since 2003. This trend will continue in 2018.

Full article here

FIGHT: Economy Minister asked to fix increasing electricity bills; parties threaten with dismissal

Latvian Economy Minister Arvils Ašeradens has to fix the mistakes that have caused electricity bills to increase, said chairman of Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia Egils Baldzēns in an interview to 900 seconds programme of LNT.

He believes the government should give in to the needs of households and farmers, as well as electricity consumers with a seasonal electricity consumption, to make the fee for connection that remains unused no higher than a couple of euros.

Baldzēns adds that the trade union does not intend to request the minister’s dismissal, because the goal is not punishing someone. Everything depends on how well or poorly mistakes are fixed.

Latvian Association of Regions (LAR) asks Economy Minister Arvils Ašeradens to resolve the situation with unjustifiably high electricity bills within two weeks. If nothing is done, ten members of LAR intend to request the minister’s dismissal at the 1 March meeting of the Saeima.

Full article here

COURT: Lembergs once again rejects court composition in his criminal case

Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, who is accused of serious crimes, rejected the composition of the court on Monday, 12 February. He said that judges are unable to provide an objective and fair viewing of the criminal case.

Lembergs claims his fundamental rights were breached during the viewing of the criminal case. This includes, according to him, his participation in inspection of each piece of evidence was not allowed, and that he was not provided with sufficient information regarding the charges presented to him.

In his statement, Lembergs referenced several court hearings that have taken place so far. He mostly focused on cases when the court declined questions raised by the defence.

Full article here

PROBLEM: sex clients sustain prostitution network in Latvia

Prostitution in Latvia is legal. Nearly anyone can be a sexual thrill-seeker or sex client and remain unpunished. Women who were forced into the life of prostitutes, on the other hand, are the ones who pay the price.

BNN spoke with MARTA Centre’s legal expert Zane Zvirgzdiņa to learn of the tricks and schemes recruiters use to lure women to live as prostitutes and what legalization aspect means for Latvia.

Prostitution is legal in Latvia

The lawyer explains that Prostitution Restriction Regulations are in force in Latvia. Those regulations were developed by the Cabinet of Ministers. Regulations do not prohibit prostitution as a whole. Instead the document introduces certain restrictions. «With that, as far as the state is concerned – prostitution is legal. Otherwise there would be no need to introduce restrictions,» explains MARTA Centre’s lawyer.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a prostitute?

If prostitution is a legal service, one might ask ironically if prostitutes pay taxes and if they are registered as ‘self-employed’. When asked, the lawyer said no – prostitutes do not pay taxes. «The moment the state starts collecting taxes from prostitution, the state becomes a pimp, because the budget would thereby benefit from prostitution,» says lawyer Zvirgzdiņa, adding that prostitution itself is not illegal. Nevertheless, there are specific restrictions put in place by the Cabinet of Ministers.

«If we look at prostitution as a system, we have to understand that there are people involved in prostitution and sex clients. Without the latter, the system would not exist. The real situation is that as long as there is demand, there will be supply. One major problem in Latvia is that no one punishes sex clients,» says the legal expert of MARTA Centre.

The centre’s representative refrains from calling it a profession, backing her views with a rhetorical question: «Have you ever dreamed of becoming a prostitute when you were a child? Has any person ever said they would like their children to pick up this profession? Let’s not forget about the kinds of psychological and physical consequences this kind of activity can bring.»

Full article here

DECLINE: ABLV Bank was used to bribe and influence officials

Until 2017, the management of ABLV Bank had been using bribes to influence officials in Latvia to prevent legal measures and reduce threats to its high-risk activities, as mentioned in the statement released by US Finance Ministry’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

FinCEN notes that the business practice employed by ABLV Bank ensures provision of financial services to clients who wish to avoid attention from regulators. The bank’s management and employees are also guilty of their clients’ illegal financial activities, including money laundering and using proxy companies to hide the identities of the true recipients of the bank’s illegal services.

ABLV Bank is considered creative and groundbreaking when it comes to the approach used to circumvent requirements of financial systems, as detailed in the report. The bank constantly improves money laundering methods and circumvention of regulations and ensures forged documents support the financial system. Some of the forgeries produced by the bank’s employees are of high quality.

Full article here

COMMENTARY: RB Rail CEO says interference «from above» has been in line with the law so far

We have seen interference «from above» in RB Rail’s activities. The law was not breached, however. With that, there was no need to report anything to law enforcement institutions, RB Rail CEO Baiba Rubesa told Ir magazine.

She says it is far more important to resolve matters, not «publicly shout in every direction». Rubesa says she did not turn to the police all this time because the law was never breached. «Nothing has been breached so far, and no one has threatened me with death.»

Rubesa admits that there are powers that want to delay the project’s realization. However, such a situation is common for all cross-border projects.

At the same time, she explains that cooperation has been good with both RB Rail council members from Latvia – Edvīns Bērziņš and Vineta Rudzīte. «We sometimes have disagreements, but we are nonetheless able to resolve matters together,» said RB Rail CEO.

She adds that there has been no opposition from Transport Ministry’s state secretary Kaspars Ozoliņš. «We can definitely thank Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis, because he backs the company in word and action,» said Rubesa.

RB Rail CEO, whose term ends in October, is certain that if she is dismissed the next head of the company will not be from Latvia. According to her, representatives of other Baltic States have zero interest in having a joint company. «They want 20 people obedient people, not a strong and capable team that would perform all work within five years,» Rubesa said in an interview.

Full article here

FUTURE: Czech Republic and Slovakia may add to NATO’s battalion in Latvia this summer

The Czech Republic and Slovakia may add to the NATO battalion stationed in Latvia at the beginning of summer 2018, as confirmed by Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis.

The minister said that Czech and Slovak troops will expand the combat group, not replace any of the represented countries.

He refrained from mentioning any precise number of troops, saying that this matter is for the aforementioned countries to clarify.

During his visit to Brussels, Bergmanis participated in a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers and the dialogue organized by Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan for member states of the expanded NATO combat group in Latvia.

Aside from Canada and Latvia, this meeting was also attended by Albania, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The sides discussed the presence of the multi-national battalion in Latvia and future steps in strengthening combat capabilities.

Full article here

PROPOSAL: Latvia ought to increase productivity to sustain predicted economic growth rate

Latvia’s Fiscal Discipline Council has approved Finance Ministry’s macroeconomic outlook for 2018-2021. This document will be used by the government as the foundation for consultations with European Commission to establish next year’s budget estimates, BNN was informed by the council.

The council views the ministry’s macroeconomic outlook as realistic. Nevertheless, there are concerns about the economic growth potential – it could turn out weaker than the ministry expects. This means economic growth may become slower and there may be less money to spend.

«Currently Latvia’s economy is growing rapidly. Nevertheless, it is necessary to follow development of the situation very carefully to make sure this rapid growth does not cause an overheating,» says Fiscal Discipline Council’s Chairman Jānis Platais. «This trend would be undesirable, because it could cause macroeconomic instability and worsen the country’s financial state in a long-term perspective the same way we witnessed it during the economic crisis.»

Finance Ministry’s developed outlook for macroeconomic indexes for the period until 2021 shows that actual GDP growth will be 4% this year and close to 3% in the next couple of years. Inflation, on the other hand, may grow more rapidly than expected.

Full article here


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PHOTO: Pope Francis visits Riga Cathedral and meets seniors at St Jacob’s Cathedral

Pope Francis visited both Riga Castle and Riga Cathedral, where a service was held under his supervision. There he met with different Latvian officials. After that, the pope met with senior citizens at St Jacob’s cathedral.

Pope Francis arrives in Latvia for an official visit

Pope Francis arrived in Latvia on Monday, 24 September. He was greeted at the airport by President Raimonds Vējonis, Archbishop Zbigņevs Stankevičs and other public figures.

Week in Lithuania. President proposes amendments to restrict bailiffs' remuneration

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė is putting forward amendments aimed at restricting bailiffs' financial remuneration to up to 15 per cent of the amount recovered.

BNN summary of the week: pre-election heat, rule of law in Latvia, Baltics prepare for Pope’s visit

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Elections; Change; Stagnation; Fight; Visit; Investigation.

Court reschedules viewing of criminal case due to Non-citizens Congress leader’s poor health

Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court announced today that the viewing of the criminal case in which leader of Non-citizens Congress Aleksandrs Gapoņenko is accused of inciting national hate will be postponed to a later date.

Producer prices in industry up 1.0% in Latvia in August

Compared to July, level of producer prices in the Latvian industry rose by 1.0 % in August 2018. Level of prices of products sold on the domestic market grew by 1.9 %, but of exported products – went up by 0.1 %.

Bishop: priest suspected of sexual abuse to be operated on in hospital

Pāvels Zeiļa, who is a priest of Rezekne Aglona diocese and the suspect in the criminal case regarding sexual violence and human trafficking, will undergo a complicated surgery on Friday, 21 September, as reported by Bishop Jānis Bulis.

Study: residents withdraw money from ATMs less often but in larger amounts

Every now and then discussions about dropping cash money altogether become active in society, AS PrivatBank representatives say.

HND Grupa design company, involved in Zolitude tragery, declared insolvent

Building engineer Ivars Sergets company HND Grupa, which was involved in the case revolving around the Maxima supermarket that collapsed in Zolitude, killing 54, not five years ago, has been declared insolvent, as reported by Latvijas Avīze.

Deputy Chief of State Fire and Rescue Service suspected of misappropriation

Latvia’s Interior Affairs Ministry’s Internal Security Bureau has detained deputy chief of State Fire and Rescue Service Ints Sēlis and one other official – a senior inspector, as reported by Panorāma programme of LTV.

Washington sanctions China for buying Russian military equipment

U.S. government has introduces sanctions against the Chinese army over a purchase of fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, despite a U.S. sanctions law targeting Moscow for attempts to sway in the 2016 U.S. election.

Autumn expected to begin soon in Latvia

Friday, 21 September, is expected to be warm in Latvia. Sun and considerable amount of clouds are expected, but not precipitation. Wind will draw in from the south, reaching a speed of 15-17 m/sec in western and central regions, as reported by Latvia’s Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Brexit: a finish line with no end in sight

Less than 200 days are left before Britain officially leaves the European Union. The state of the agreement between Britain and EU only serves to create more chaos, from which neither Britain nor EU, or even Latvia will benefit.

EU underlines to London: No-deal Brexit also option

European Union's top officials and member state leaders planned to push for a Brexit deal in October, while urging London to give ground on the issues trade and the Irish border by November, to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Lithuanian PM, a presumable presidential hopeful, set to curb grocery price growth

Having chastised food retailers on many occasions for high grocery prices, Saulius Skvernelis, the Lithuanian Prime Minister, stepped forward in the bid to harness local supermarkets. The presumed presidential candidate of the ruling Farmers and Greens (LVŽS) has summoned this week executives of major retail food chains, scolded them and reaffirmed his pledge to rein in the edging up prices.

Industrial prices in Estonia – up by 3.4% on year

The industrial price index in Estonia has risen from August 2017 to August this year by 3.4%, official statistics show.

Latvian parliament approves transition to competence-based approach in education content

On Thursday, 20 September, Latvia’s Saeima approved in the final reading amendments to the Education Law, necessary for the gradual introduction of competence-based approach in education materials.

Latvian Saeima wants to disallow shareholders to work in company management board

On Thursday, 20 September, Saeima approved in the first reading amendments to the Credit Institutions Law that provide for multiple measures to enhance Latvia’s finance system and its long-term stability, as reported by the parliament’s press-service.

Aglone Council prohibits residents from organizing protests during Pope Francis’ visit

A protest against the Catholic Church’s ban on abortions and expression of shock in relation to the recent sex scandals involving Catholic priests was planned to take place in Aglone during Pope Francis’ visit, but the city council decided to disallow them.

Latvian parliament conceptual supports pension bonus indexation

On Thursday, 20 September, Saeima supported in the first reading several initiatives for a more rapid pension climb for several groups of pensioners, as reported by Saeima press-service.

Majority Saeima deputies support open president vote; UGF members fail to decide unanimously

On Thursday, 20 September, amendments to the Constitution regarding open election of the state president were approved in the second reading.

Four Estonian parties have strong support, enough to enter Riigikogu

Four Estonian parties are believed to currently have enough support to enter the Estonian parliament, a broad opinion poll showed, as leading parties compete for voter backing.

Vitol Group concerned over state of rule of law in Latvia; turns to state officials

One of the largest energy resource traders in the world – Vitol Group – has sent a letter to Latvia’s highest ranking officials, expressing deep concern over the rule of law and application of legislative acts in the litigation between LatRosTrans and Polocktransneft Druzba over the EUR 66 million worth technological oil.

As Pope heads to Baltics, more attention to Catholic sex abuse

The time, when Roman Catholic Pope Francis is set to visit the Baltics, greatly differs from the visit by Saint John Paul II in 1993. There is public resentment over the countries spending several million euros to host the trip of the pontiff and the Catholic sex abuse scandals are topic of discussion.

Officials asked to take responsibility for misuse of state resources

If misuse of state resources takes place, officials have to take responsibility and pay for the damages caused to the state, says Public Expenditure and Audit Committee chairman Andris Bērziņš.

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