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Wednesday 17.10.2018 | Name days: Karīna, Gaits
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BNN summary of the week: pre-election heat, rule of law in Latvia, Baltics prepare for Pope’s visit

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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: Elections; Change; Stagnation; Fight; Visit; Investigation.

ELECTIONS: Latvian parties’ pre-election promotion costs reach EUR 1.64 million

Three weeks prior to Saeima elections, expenses of Latvian political parties on promotion have reached EUR 1,638,393. Concord remains in the least expense-wise, according to information from Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau.

As of 14 September, Concord’s declared expenses on promotional activities were EUR 461,873. The Union of Greens and Farmers, according to their submitted documents, has so far spent EUR 406,372; ‘Attīstībai/Par!’ party has spent EUR 250,794, and New Unity – EUR 216,540.

National Alliance ‘All for Latvia!’ – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK has declared expenses worth EUR 79,401; KPV LV – EUR 69,140; New Conservative Party – EUR 45,858, and Latvian Russians Union – EUR 44,638.

The expenses declared by other parties do not exceed EUR 24,000. Two smaller parties – Latvian Centrist Party and Alternative Party – have yet to declare their pre-election promotion costs.

During the official pre-election period, political parties mostly publish promotional materials on billboards, social networks, radio and printed press. Compared to the last elections, there has not been a lot of activity on television. This is 6 September marked the coming into force of a restriction to use television to promote parties prior to Saeima elections.

Full article here

CHANGE: 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.

Before, PM spearheaded a plan to set off the big players’ dominance by strengthening small and medium-sized grocers (it was purposely or not leaked), proposed a VAT cut on food products and, this week, invited foreign retailers, including Germany’s Kaufland, to invest into Lithuania.

«Indeed, Skvernelis, as the most likely presidential candidate of the ruling party, is smart prioritising the topic of food prices. Their growth is an acute topic to all and his efforts to reduce them play out well with voters from different electoral layers. The intent is populist, yet can be efficient in garnering support in the election,» Lauras Bielinis, a political analyst and associate professor at Kaunas Magnus University, told BNN.

After the meeting on Wednesday, PM continued to criticize supermarket operators, claiming that they did not say «anything new».

«Essentially, I heard the same, i.e. that all (regarding the prices) here is well functioning, that Lithuania remains one of the EU countries with the lowest food prices, that we do no face any problems and so on. I really cannot agree with that, therefore the Government has already scheduled a meeting next Wednesday to consider concrete plans and measures aimed at increasing competition and fostering small and medium-sized businesses,» Skvernelis said. He added: «It is difficult to refute the fact that over the last seven years food prices grew at a speedier pace than the prices of feedstocks and the import. However, our food retailers are denying it».

Asked by reporters how he intends to put prices under control, Skvernelis mentioned the necessity to strengthen small and medium-sized food vendors, increase competition in the trade sector, and to attract more investors to the market.

Full article here

STAGNATION: Latvian police points towards stagnation in road traffic safety

So far this year 91 people have died in road traffic accidents in Latvia. According to State Police Road Traffic Safety Office Chief Normunds Krapsis, stagnation is present for road traffic safety.

The situation with road traffic safety has improved in the past ten years. Nevertheless, this year’s and last year’s results show that a kind of stagnation is present in the sector, because it threatens the goal for the number of lethal outcomes and inured in road accidents to be reduced by 50% by 2020, said Krapsis.

The main risk factors for serious accidents include people’s nihilistic attitude towards road traffic rules, poor technical state of their vehicle and the state of road infrastructure. Statistical data for September proves the presence of nihilism among people, because out of six people killed in road accidents, four did not have reflective gear at night.

Another risk factor is that the number of drunk drivers has not reduced much.

Krapsis says state institutions have to work and think of other ways to influence road traffic participants’ conscience. Road traffic safety campaigns are not enough. He believes the only way to influence the situation is by using several measures together: police visibility, speed cameras and appropriate road infrastructure.

Full article here

FIGHT: 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.

Vitol Group indirectly owns 66% of LatRosTrans shares.

As BNN was told by the company’s representatives, in its letter to Latvia’s state officials, Vitol Group asked them to secure competent, professional and transparent review of this litigation in the court justice system of the Republic of Latvia to prevent violations of investment protection principles, as well as possible threats to national security.

«Following the restoration of Latvia’s independence, both the pipeline and the technological oil that was contained there on Latvia’s territory became state property in accordance with legislation of the Republic of Latvia. After the foundation of LatRosTrans, legislation stated that these assets are part of the company’s capital as its property. When Latgale Regional Court was making its decision regarding the ownership of this oil, the judge did not take into account the decision made by the Supreme Council, which stated that all businesses and civilian objects that were formally owned by USSR in the past and were registered or located on territory of the Republic of Latvia became state property if international agreements did not decide otherwise. Instead, when making its decision, the court referenced entries from the company’s accounting balance entries left from USSR,» said Vitol Group representative and LatRosTrans council chairman Robert Kirkup.

Vitol group believes Latgale RegionalCourt has ignored Latvia’s legislation by making interior, former USSR documents as a priority. On top of that, Latgale Regional Court has not taken into account documents submitted by Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Saeima Legal Affairs Office, which conform that the oil pipeline is located on Latvia’s territory and the oil contained in it is to be considered Latvia’s property, considering that the country has not voiced any intentions to transfer this asset to a different owner.

LatRosTrans has decided to appeal the ruling of Latgale Regional Court. Vitol group expects the Supreme Court to pay more attention to this case.

Full article here

VISIT: 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.

French news agency AFP reports on Friday, September 20, that the Catholic Church is under increasing scrutiny because of the escalating worldwide sex abuse crisis, involving cases claims of abuse and cover-ups by clergymen and lay members in Australia, Europe, and North and South America have involved widespread claims of abuse.

This March, the Lithuanian church also admitted to a sexual abuse case in the 1970s after an internal two-year investigation.

Full article here

INVESTIGATION: U.S. looking into Danske Bank operations in Estonia

Danske Bank, the leading bank in Denmark, is being investigated by U.S. authorities in relation to alleged money laundering from Russia involving Danske’s Estonia branch, American media report.

The U.S. media organisation CNBC reported on Friday, September 14, citing the Wall Street Journal that the investigation is conducted by the U.S. Justice Department, the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over transactions at Danske Bank’s Estonian branch for several years including 2015.

In a whistleblower complaint submitted to the SEC few years ago, it has been pointed to Germany’s Deutsche Bank and American banking multinational Citigroup as possibly linked to transactions going into and out of the Danske Estonian branch, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Full article here


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Opinion: Attīstībai/Par! party would very much like to work with NCP

Attīstībai/Par! would very much like to work with New Conservative Party in the new government in Latvia given the opportunity, as journalists were told by AP co-chairman Daniels Pavļuts.

Number of cars registered in Latvia increases more quickly than average in Europe

In the first nine months of 2018, Latvia experienced a more rapid increase with the number of newly-registered light vehicles than the average in the European Union, according to the latest information from European Automobile Manufacturers' Association.

Seven Latvian companies listed among TOP 50 Baltic businesses

Among the 50 largest businesses in Baltics, seven hailed from Latvia in 2017. This is three businesses fewer than there were the previous year, as BNN was informed by representatives of Coface with reference to their list of the TOP 50 businesses in Baltic States.

1.7% less alcoholic beverages was produced in Latvia in first eight months of 2018

In the first eight months of 2018, 34.2 million litres of alcoholic beverages, except for beer, was produced in Latvia. 1.7% less alcoholic beverages was produced in Latvia when compared to the same period of 2017, according to data from the State Revenue Service.

Baltic states do slightly worse in Global Competitiveness Report

In the Global Competitiveness Report 2018 released by the World Economic Forum, Lithuania and Estonia have dropped by two positions, while all Baltic states remain among the top 45 most competitive economies in the world.

Latvian corruption prevention bureau undergoes reorganization; several experienced officials retire

Reorganization has been performed at Latvia’s Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. As a result of this reorganization, seven of the bureau’s officials have decided to resign. Six of them have decided to retire.

Russia starts trial against director Serebrennikov after long house arrest

In Moscow, the court proceedings against Russian theatre and cinema director Kirill Serebrennikov has begun on Wednesday, which is over a year after he was put under house arrest in a controversial embezzlement case.

Latvian Saeima wants to further enhance Anti-Money Laundering Service’s authority

On Tuesday, 16 October, members of Saeima’s Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee supported in the first reading amendments to the Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing.

Canada enforces legalisation of marijuana, expects economic benefits

Canada is legalising marijuana for recreational use on Wednesday and economists forecast that the new manufacturing sector would bring many new jobs, investment and tax income.

Additional funding of EUR 232 million to be allocated for EU projects in 2018

Additional funding of EUR 232 million will be allocated for different European Union policy instruments and other kinds of foreign financial assistance projects before the end of 2018, as decided by Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers on Tuesday, 16 October.

EU expects something creative from London for Brexit summit to deliver

The remaining European Union member states will expect in Brexit-focused summit that the UK would bring a creative solution to the issue of Irish border that has halted the talks.

Government formation process in Latvia remains clouded by unanswered questions

Political parties in the process of forming a new government in Latvia still have not reached an agreement on the future coalition and the person to take post as prime minister.

Lithuania and Ukraine to co-operate in Fintech

The central banks of Lithuania and Ukraine have committed to working together to promote the development of financial innovations and have signed a Co-operation Agreement in the Area of Innovation Development.

Tragic gas poisoning in family home investigated in Estonia

In Tallinn, the death of two children from gas poisoning is under investigation. The tragic accident in a semi-detached house in the Estonian capital has taken place on Saturday, October 13.

Progressive party proposes forming a government in Latvia with no oligarchs

Political party Progressive offers parties elected to the Saeima to put an end to oligarchs’ rule over Latvia’s politics and form a government that would help end the state capture tradition in the country.

Latvian president announces law on publication of KGB files

On Tuesday, 16 October, Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis announced the law on publication of Latvian KGB files, as confirmed by the entry in Latvian Herald.

Pupils in Ukraine learn to hide in case of bombardment

In the Donbas war, over 10,000 people have been killed since 2014, therefore war drills and bomb shelters have become part of daily life for hundreds of schools near the frontline.

NCP’s proposed government model receives the first rejection

The government model proposed by the New Conservative Party has received its first rejection. Additionally, there are other parties that believe it is necessary to agree on tasks before picking posts.

Orthodox Church of Russia breaks away from Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Orthodox Church of Russia has announced cutting contacts with the leading body of the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, after its decision to allow the Ukrainian church to become independent from Moscow. The decision has not been recognised by Moscow.

Latvian president announces amendments allowing for open election of state president

Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has announced amendments to the country’s constitution that allow for open election of the state president, as noted in the official statement published in Latvian Herald.

UGF includes active ministers in its group for government formation talks

The Union of Greens and Farmers has delegated Latvia’s Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis and Agriculture Minister Jānis Dūklavs to its group for government formation talks, as confirmed by the party’s board chairman Armands Krauze.

Latvian government supports 2019 budget project

On Monday, 15 October, Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers supported Finance Ministry’s prepared 2019 budget plan project. State budget revenue in 2019 is planned at EUR 9.178 billion, which is EUR 217 million more when compared to 2018, whereas state budget expenditures are planned at EUR 9.205 billion, which is EUR 96 million more when compared to 2018.

EC Vice-President: growth of Latvia’s economy is delayed by banking sector’s problems

Development of Latvia’s economy is delayed by problems in the country’s banking and transit sectors, says European Commission’s Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis.

Danske Bank's rating lowered over Estonia branch scandal

American ratings agency Moody's has lowered its long-term ratings for Denmark's larges lender, Danske Bank, embroiled in a scandal of possible money laundering in Estonia.

Residents’ debts before non-finance companies remain the highest in Latvia

The debts of Latvian residents before non-finance companies have doubled over the course of the past half-year, reaching 305,000 unpaid bills, according to data from the Credit Information Bureau.

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