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Wednesday 19.06.2019 | Name days: Nils, Viktors
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BNN summary of the week: oligarch talks’ ownership; scandals in Lithuania; Estonia wants direct democracy

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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: Progress; Scandals; Invitation; Fight; Opinion; Decline.

PROGRESS: Saeima voices support for Rail Baltica project’s progression

On Thursday, 15 March, the Saeima made a decision to support Rail Baltica project’s progression. In its decision, the parliament invited Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers to provide all the necessary support for the project’s successful realization to ensure the project is realized in accordance with established terms and does not lose funding or support from the European Union, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

The parliament also invites all sides involved in the project to find solutions to existing disagreements and encouraged Lithuanian and Estonian parliaments to support Rail Baltica project.

«Political support for the project is vital to be secured from the entire parliament. This is why European Affairs Committee has prepared a decision draft. In it, we invite Lithuania’s and Estonia’s parliaments to make a step forward and secure support for Rail Baltica project,» said the chairperson of the committee Lolita Čigāne.

Mentioning that Latvia’s full integration in EU transport network is a commercial, social and security matter for Baltic States, it is mentioned in the decision that Rail Baltica is a priority project in the EU intended to create a single transport space. To realize this project, EU has allocated 85% of the necessary funding, which is estimated around EUR 5.8 billion.

Full article here

SCANDALS: Lithuania’s ruling LFGU party remains unscathed by scandals

It seems that, for now, Lithuania‘s ruling Farmers and Green Union (LFGU) has been nearly damage-proof despite the lambasting.

Yet not the LFGU, but the opposition conservative Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU -LCD) enjoys the biggest support of the Lithuanian voters now.

If parliamentary elections were held next weekend, the conservatives would secure 17.3 per cent of the vote and the LFGU would be supported by 15.4 per cent, according to the poll conducted by Spinter Tyrimai (Spinter Surveys) pollster.

The Social Democratic Party would come in third with 8.2 per cent of the vote, just ahead of the Order and Justice party with 7.7 per cent.

In multi-mandate voting, the Liberal Movement would be the last party to cross the required 5-per cent margin with 5.1 per cent of the vote.

The parties‘ sequence in other polls is similar. That the Conservatives top polls is not surprising as being in opposition means being less prone to vulnerabilities of the political life.

Full article here

INVITATION: Protesters in Tallinn call for renewal of direct democracy in Estonia

In Tallinn, a protest in favour of direct democracy in Estonia has been held on Monday, March 12, with participants asking for the reintroduction of the direct-democratic initiative set forth by Estonia’s current constitution.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that March 12 had been selected for the event as on the same date in 1934, Estonia’s period of authoritarian rule begun that took away from the Estonian people the right to introduce new draft legislation using the instrument of a direct-democratic initiative or to ask for a referendum to be held on existing laws.

Head of the Terve Rahvas (Estonian for Whole Nation) foundation, historian Jaak Valge, has explained that the reintroduction of the initiative is extremely important for the proper functioning of the Estonian people as the highest power in the state in line with the Constitution: «Direct democracy as we understand it doesn’t replace our representative democracy, but rather completes it».

Full article here

FIGHT: Slovak Interior Minister steps down amid backlash over journalist murder and politics

Slovakian Minister of the Interior has stepped down as the interior authorities in the country are under pressure to solve the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée.

British public broadcaster BBC reports that that the junior coalition partner, the Most-Hid group, in the Slovak government demanded the resignation of Kalinak in exchange for continued support of ruling Smer-SD as critics had claimed Kalinak could not ensure an impartial investigation into the murders, in his role as overseer of the police.

Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska called for a «radical reconstruction» of the government or fresh elections last week to restore public faith, after all seven suspects arrested in connection with the murders were released without charge.

Full article here

FUTURE: No more than two consecutive terms for governor of Bank of Latvia

Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee has agreed to propose an alternative legislative draft that provides for adding restrictions for the governor of the Bank of Latvia, making it impossible to take this post more for more than two consecutive terms.

The idea to expand the rights for dismissal of the governor of the central bank did not receive support from the committee.

At the same time, the committee declined amendments to the Law on the Bank of Latvia from Unity’s Saeima faction. Unity’s proposal provided to expanding the law with an option to suspend the authority of the governor of the country’s central bank if he, his deputy or council member is a suspect in a criminal process.

The declined legislative draft also provided requirements for the management of the central bank and the option for the parliament to initiate a vote for the governor’s dismissal.

Full article here

OPINION: oligarch talks do not belong to CPCB or prosecutor; society has the right to go through them

Documents from the oligarch talks do not belong to the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, the prosecutor’s office or any other institution – society has the right to go through this information, said member of Unity’s Saeima faction Andrejs Judins.

Materials of oligarch talks do not contain any sensitive information about people’s private lives, said Judins, adding that he learned that much from working in the parliament’s investigative committee.

During a meeting of Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday, 14 March, a discussion took place between deputies and representative of the prosecutor’s office. The topic revolved around oligarch talks and whether or not they should be considered containing private information. Representative of the prosecutor general’s office mentioned that the talks in question mentioned many details of participating parties’ private life.

Full article here

DECLINE: Riga’s mayor spent at least eight million euros of residents’ money to promote himself

Over the course of the past three years, at least EUR 8 million of residents’ money has been used to promote the image of the Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs. This money was used to buy media, employ young members of Harmony, and finance ‘in-house protestors’ and using social networks, as estimated by Re:Baltica research journalism center.

EUR 4 million of this amount was paid to riga.lv portal, EUR 1,5 million was spent financing Riga City Council Public Relations Office, EUR 1 million ended up in SIA Mediaservice, and EUR 1.4 million was spent on publication of information in mass media and organization of Ghetto Games.

Ušakovs’ publicity mechanism consists of three large blocks: advertisement contracts with commercial media for distribution of ‘Riga news’, a network of loyal NGOs who are ready to take it to the streets and voice support, and an impressive network of social media that are used to form public opinions and criticize the opposition. The strategic goal is creating an image for Ušakovs as a successful manager. In reality, however, this is one-sided communication, because the mayor is free to choose which questions to answer and how to skilfully avoid counter-questions.

Large amounts of money are put into riga.lv portal, the office of which is located close to Riga City Council. It was founded five years ago. Its team consists of sixteen people. Another eighteen people work there part-time. Its funding has grown nine times from EUR 322,000 in its first year to at least EUR 3 million in 2017. Prior to elections, EUR 1.12 million from riga.lv budget was spent on website maintenance, excluding wages and royalties, as well as screen time for advertisements on a number of media. Some of the media outlets had been paid at least EUR 3.3 million in the last three years.

Full article here

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Nordea bank searched in Denmark over money laundering allegations

The Danish offices of the Scandinavian Nordea Bank have been searched by police as a probe in alleged money laundering is being conducted, Bloomberg reports.

Fire Service: Violations in new Ventspils music school prevented

In the newly-built Ventspils Musical High School and concert hall Latvija, which had problems with fire safety, the Latvian State and Fire Rescue Service has found in a repeated inspection that the violations have been fixed.

UN: 2.2 billion people globally still lack safe drinking water

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation has found in study that 1 in 3 people or 2.2 billion people around the world lack safely-managed drinking water, while 673 million people practice open defecation.

Key owner of pharmaceutical giant Olainfarm changes board member over distrust

In Olmafarm, the largest owner of the Latvian pharmaceutical giant Olainfarm, changes in the management board have taken place over no-confidence, according to a decision of the majority of the co-heirs of Olmafarm seen by LETA news agency.

Lithuanian experts: No way of stopping coming nuclear power plant of Belarus

Options that could stop the building of a nuclear power plant in Belarus have been exhausted, experts in neighbouring Lithuania have said to its public media.

Latvia pushing for joint stance of Baltic-Nordic MPs on security policy

Ahead of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe, it is key for the legislators of the eight Baltic-Nordic states to have a common position on security policy, said MP Inese Ikstena, head of the Latvian delegation.

Latvian coalition undertakes to rise teacher salaries over reform

Recognising that education reforms in Latvia have been initiated, the ruling coalition has pledged to pass the decision to allocate funds to rising teacher salaries, as indicated by Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš. Kariņš stated that the coalition parties have established that «reforms envisaged by Minister of Education Ilga Šupilinska have been initiated».

Latvian Enterprise Register: Companies not revealing true beneficiaries to be wound up

Once changes to the Latvian Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing are signed by State President, the Enterprise Register will be tasked with winding up legal entities not revealing their true beneficiaries.

Latvian PM: If Estonia breaks deal on alcohol excise, we’re forced to respond

If Estonia has broken a deal with Latvia on alcohol excise tax, then Latvia is left to no choice, but to respond with a corresponding cut in excise, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš.

Never too late to marry – elderly marriages jump in Latvia

Over the year 2018 in Latvia, the total number of marriages fell by 0.7 %, the number of marriages concluded by elderly population grew 1.7 times, data from the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia showed.

Eesti Energia suggests introducing customs tax to cheap Russian power

Estonian state energy firm Eesti Energia has proposed introducing a customs tax to electricity imported by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from Russia.

Social care centre in Latvia blamed for severe human rights violations

Latvian Ombudsman’s Office has found severe human rights violations in the social care centre Ezerkrasti and accused the institution of not complying with recommendations to it. Ezerkrasti is a branch of the state social care centre Riga, located outside the Latvian capital.

Unmarried couples’ law to be proposed in Latvia

In the Latvian Saeima, this week, a draft Law on Unmarried couples would be proposed by the party alliance Attīstībai/Par!.

Glass fibre maker Valmieras stikla šķiedra files for legal protection

Latvia-based glass fibre maker AS Valmieras stikla šķiedra has on Monday, June 17, announced filing for the start of legal protection proceedings aimed at ensuring sustainable continuation of group level operations.

Summer solstice week to be warm-to-hot in Latvia

As Latvia readies for the traditional summer solstice and Līgo festivities in the weekend, meteorologists expect the beginning of the week to be warm and sunny, whereas in the second half of the week, temperatures could rise and rain could set in.

Trees worth two hundred thousand euros disappear in Latvian border works

Developing the Latvia-Russia border, in eastern Latvia, a protected natural territory has been destroyed and timber worth over two hundred thousand euros has disappeared, reported Nekā Personīga programme of TV3 channel.

Latvian MPs request Supreme Court to evaluate Prosecutor General Kalnmeiers

Latvian legislators have asked the Latvian Supreme Court to evaluate consistency of the work of Prosecutor Ēriks Kalnmeiers with his post over inactivity in money laundering prevention and other shortcomings.

Gynaecologists in Germany fined advertising abortions

A court in Berlin has found two gynaecologists guilty of advertising how they carry out abortions in their clinic, fining them two thousand euros each. A pair of anti-abortion campaigners had reported the gynaecologists' website ad to German prosecutors.

Week in Lithuania: MP Gražulis in hot water, heat-related water supply disruptions in Kaunas

Last week, Lithuania marked the Day of Mourning and Hope, outgoing president Dalia Grybauskaite delivered her last annual address, president-elect Gitanas Nausėda spoke out against taxing owners of old polluting car, but MP Petras Gražulis suspected of bribery.

BNN summary of the week: Waiting for new Culture Minister; Misleading by Supreme Court chair; bank watchdog overhaul

In the past week in Latvia, changes were announced in the Financial and Capital Market Commission, which will have new a management and duties. A substitute has been proposed for Dace Melbārde as the Latvian Culture Minister after her election to the European Parliament. The conservatives have picked Nauris Puntulis, an opera singer and current Riga City councillor, for the post. The candidate gave an interview to BNN on his priorities in the post.

IN PICTURES: Victims of Communist genocide remembered in Latvia

At the Freedom Monument in Latvia on Friday, June 14, there was held a ceremony to honour the victims of the Communist genocide against the people of Latvia. The mass arrests of innocent people were committed on the night from June 13 to 14.

Moscow sees U.S. decision of another thousand troops to Poland as sensitive

The Russian government stated the Russian army was closely tracking U.S. plans to send an additional thousand of its troops Poland as a deputy minister criticised the move as probably «aggressive».

Europol: Risks of Russian money laundering still exist in Baltics

In the Baltic states, there still exist risks for the laundering of money from Russia, said official from European police agency Europol, Pedro Felicio, who works on anti-money laundering measures in the body. He added that the problem is amplified by «zero cooperation from the side of Russia».

Data: 47.3% Latvian restaurants had tax debt over last six months

47.3% of Latvian restaurants and cafes had a tax debt exceeding 150 euros in the past six months, yet the total taxes paid by the sector have surged by 19.87% on year, data by business database Lursoft showed.

Latvian parliament in no rush to discuss Jewish restitution payment of EUR 40 mln

The Latvian Saeima has postponed the discussion of a draft law to compensate the Latvian Jewish community in the amount of 40 million euros for property confiscated by totalitarian powers in the mid-20th century in the then occupied Latvia.