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Wednesday 16.01.2019 | Name days: Lida, Lidija
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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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Is polygamy the answer for Latvia? «Demographic affairs expert» Parādnieks is the man for the job!

The government formation process in Latvia is progressing slowly and painfully. It is as though a ship without navigation – Latvia has yet to find its way in the ocean of political roads. And this ocean I full of «icebergs» Latvia keeps bumping against. The latest one is National Alliance’s official candidate, an «expert» at resolving demographic problems Imants Parādnieks.

Latvian government approves unified requirements for road and street construction quality

On Tuesday, 15 January, Latvian government approved a project of rules from the Cabinet of Ministers. The goal of this project is ensuring rational use of public funds for road and street construction.

Strike in German airports cancels hundreds of flights

Several hundred flights have been cancelled in German airports on January 15, because of strike as part of an airport worker wage dispute. Germany's powerful Verdi union has announced the strike would last from 02:00 am until 8:00 pm local time at the airports of Frankfurt, Munich, Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden and Erfurt.

Saeima proposes applying labour protection requirements for topical employment trends

Considering the emergence of new forms of employment, when work is often performed remotely outside company premises, it is necessary to adapt labour protection requirements.

Opinion: final decision for next Daugavpils mayoral candidate is not yet made

Although on Thursday, 17 January, Daugavpils City Council plans to elect a new mayor and Andrejs Elksniņš is mentioned among the candidates, the final decision has yet to be made, claims former mayor Rihards Eigims, who was dismissed in November.

Tallinn Port sees record passenger number of 10.6 million

Estonia's largest passenger port in Tallinn has registered 11th year of growth in passenger numbers as the year 2018 has ended with a total of 10.6 million passengers.

Additional funding requested for continuation of publication of KGB files

Constitution Protection Bureau’s Centre for the Documentation of the Consequences of Totalitarianism requests additional funding of EUR 51,976 to continue financing the digitization of remaining KGB files before 30 April.

Latvian authorities announce influenza epidemic in the country

Last week, the number of patients with flu in Valmiera reached the threshold of an epidemic – 163.6 cases per 100,000 residents. With that, 15 January was declared the beginning of an influenza epidemic in Latvia, BNN was told by Disease Prevention and Control Centre.

Government declaration proposals may cost Latvia EUR 600 million this year

If all proposals submitted for the government declaration were to be implemented this year, it would require an additional amount of EUR 660 million, prime minister candidate Krišjānis Kariņš told journalists.

Stabbed Polish mayor dies

In Poland, the long-time mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz has died after doctors were unable to save him following a knife attack during a charity event.

Police: cocaine shipment from Ecuador was not meant for Latvian market

The shipment of cocaine sent from Ecuador and intercepted in Koknese was likely not meant for Latvian market, says Chief of State Police Main Criminal Police Department Andrejs Grišins.

Forming government in Latvia may develop new Local Governments Law

Prime minister candidate Krišjāņis Kariņš’s formed government could develop a new Local Government Law, according to information compiled for government declaration ideas from members of the work group.

«Osinovskis’ million» case: Elksniņš requested money «for KNAB»

Several years ago there was a scandal caused by the announcement made by the now former investigator of Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) and now Saeima deputy Juris Jurašs that he was offered a two million euros bribe in the LDz corruption case.

Businessman Martinsons’ fast loan company’s paid interest compost most of Ameriks’ income

A month ago, Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau performed 30 searches and detained 7 people as part of an investigation of possible corruptive activities at Rīgas satiksme. Among those people is Honour to Serve Riga political party member Aleksandrs Krjačeks.

Bank: this year’s priority will be restoring finance sector’s reputation

This year’s priority will be ensuring sustainable development and restoration of the finance sector’s reputation, says chairman of Baltic International Bank Viktors Bolbats.

Weather in Latvia to be chilly and windy this week

Weather will be volatile in Latvia this week – a reasonable amount of thaw along with chilly air is expected. Latvia’s State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre predicts strong wind and plenty of precipitation.

Week in Lithuania. Ruling LFGU initiates referendum to reduce number of MPs

Members of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union will collect signatures for a referendum to reduce the size of the parliament.

BNN summary of the week: Latvian government’s plan; minister vs. mayor; politologist in the parliament?

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Government; Conflict; Announcement; Proposal; Support; Opinion; Fight.

New Unity’s candidate to offer partners to sign Fiscal Pact

New Unity’s prime minister candidate Krišjānis Kariņš intends to offer partners of the government to sign a Fiscal Pact, which, among other things, proposes not supporting raising or introducing any new taxes this year.

Latvia’s forming government’s priorities include minimal wages and schools

Among the priorities of Latvia’s forming government is the administrative territorial reform, strengthening of the national economy, reformation in education and healthcare, «uncompromised rule of law», state security, cooperation with diaspora and demography, according to information LETA.

Inflation in Latvia reached 2.6% in December 2018

Compared to December 2017, the average level of consumer prices rose by 2.6 % in December 2018. Prices of goods increased by 2.3 % and prices of services by 3.1 %. Compared to 2015, in December 2018 consumer prices were 6.4 % higher.

Orbán seeks anti-immigration sentiment dominance in EU institutions

Hungary' s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stated the his country's goal was to have «anti-immigration forces» in the majority in every European Union institution as the spring European Parliament election nears.

Delays with state budget may put at risk EP elections in Latvia

Delays with approval of the country’s state budget could put at risk residents’ ability to vote in upcoming European Parliament elections at any election site, Diena reports with reference to concerns voiced by Central Election Commission’s chairman Arnis Cimdars.

Opinion: no amount of speculation will make electrification project cost-effective

«For people working in the industry it is hard to spot even the slightest benefits of the electrification project and we believe there is no logic to back this mega project’s future development. Especially considering existing excessive project costs and the costs created by the need for locomotive replacement and that increased costs will make cargo freight in Riga’s direction all the more expensive. No amount of speculations regarding electricity and diesel fuel fluctuations will make this project cost-effective,» says AS Baltic Express board chairman Māris Bremze.

UK pledges large investment in Northern Ireland before decisive Brexit vote

London has pledged hundreds of millions of pounds in funds to uphold peace and welfare in Northern Ireland after Brexit, as British MPs are expected to deny their support to the withdrawal deal.