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Wednesday 26.09.2018 | Name days: Kurts, Knuts, Gundars

BNN summary of the week: Saeima wakes up and UGF deputy drowns in scandals

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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; Conflict; Deal; Suspicion; Fight; Growth; Question.

CHANGE: Saeima «wakes up» – conceptually supports open election of State President

On Thursday, 6 September, Latvia’s Saeima conceptually supported amendments to the Constitution that provide for open election of the State President.

The legislative draft was supported by 82 deputies. Askolds Kļaviņš from the Union of Greens and Farmers voted against it. Valdis Kalnozols (UGF), Viktors Valainis (UGF) and Juris Vectirāns (UGF) did not participate in the vote.

Proposals for the legislative draft’s second reading are allowed to be submitted until 11 September.

Saeima will need to discuss these amendments in the second and third readings.

As previously reported, Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee will try to push the Constitution amendment project, which provides for open election of the State President, before the upcoming parliamentary elections, said the committee’s chairman Gaidis Bērziņš (National Alliance ‘All for Latvia!’ – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK).

Full article here

CONFLICT: Green Farmers member steps down before the end of his career in Saeima

Latvian Saeima deputy Askolds Kļaviņš from the Union of Greens and Farmers has decided to put down his mandate.

When asked if he has written his resignation, Kļaviņš told journalists that he has.

BNN had previously reported that the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau has commenced a criminal process against Kļaviņš for abuse of official status. After becoming a resident of Liepaja, Kļaviņš started receiving five-times larger transport cost compensation than other members of the parliament.

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DEAL: Latvian government reaches agreement on teachers’ pay financing from state budget

On Friday, 7 September, by slightly easing initially proposed criteria, Latvia’s Education Ministry and its social partners managed to reach an agreement in relation to financing teachers’ wages from the state budget starting with 1 September 2020.

As journalists were told by Education and Science Minister Kārlis Šadurskis after meeting with partners, the agreement was reached that provision of funding for teachers’ wages will take into account the average compulsory centralized exam index, not the lowest index, as it was originally until now.

The lowest exam index will be taken into account from 2023 onward, when secondary school students are expected to undergo exams formed from new education content.

It has also been decided that quality criteria for the minimal number of students will be applied for 10th class and secondary school student groups.

Šadurskis said that monitoring will be organized to see if there is any need to change criteria in the future.

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SUSPICION: Two Estonians suspected to have been spying for Russia for years

A court in Estonia has ordered the arrest of two men suspected of spying for Russia, the Estonian Office of the Prosecutor General has stated.

The suspects are Denis Metsavas, born in 1980, who has served in the Estonian Defence Forces for 10 years up to now and his father Pjotr Volin.

Both are Russian-speakers, who have acquired their Estonian citizenships in the 1990s.

Prosecutors believe that both suspects have forwarded state secrets and confidential outside information to the Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia, the Estonian neighbour’s military intelligence service.

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FIGHT: LDz requests EUR 57 million from Lithuania for dismantling Mazeikiai-Renge railway line

Latvian railway company VAS Latvijas dzelzceļš has requested Lithuanian railway company Lietuvos geležinkeliai to pay EUR 57 million as a compensation for the dismantling of Mazeikiai-Renge railway line in 2008.

Lietuvos geležinkeliai, which received the request on Monday, considers it unjustified.

Lithuanian Transport Minister Rokas Masiulis has called this request a part of political pre-election games.

‘We view this step made by Latvia as part of political games prior to October’s elections. I can only say that it is sad Riga did not decide to wait until the end of the case with European Commission. Lithuania has already commenced the restoration of Reņģe line. We are doing everything we can to resolve this old conflict,’ he said.

As noted in Lithuanian Transport Ministry’s released statement, LDz has requested information as to when it is planned to restore railway traffic. LDz has also requested a compensation for lost profits.

Director General of Lietuvos geležinkeliai Mants Bartuška said the company has coordinated the transport restoration plan on Mazeikiai-Renge route. Construction is planned to be completed by the end of next year.

«Estimates regarding allegedly lost profits lack justified arguments, because freight volumes headed in Latvia’s direction remain the same as they were prior to the dismantling of the railway line,» the official mentioned in the statement.

According to the company’s director general, even after the dismantling of Reņģe railway line railway connectivity with Latvia was still possible. However, existing railway lines are not used to their full potential, and some of them have not been used for 15 years.

The statement mentions that LDz has had the opportunity to carry oil products from Lithuania using other directions, but the company has never tried using this opportunity.

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GROWTH: 90% of businesses may support proposal to stop using plastic straws

90% of businesses selling plastic straws may participate in a special campaign Bez salmiņa [No straw] organized by Latvian Traders Association and waste management company Zaļā josta, sats KTA president Henriks Danusēvičs.

According to him, the initiative was launched 5 September and is expected to gather 90% of traders that sell products that use plastic straws.

He reminds that 1,000 catering companies, restaurants, school cafeterias and small cafes are part of LTA, and it is planned to involve them in this initiative. «We cannot force anyone [to take part], but we do unite socially responsible companies, and we hope they will join us in this initiative,» said Danusēvičs.

LTA president reminds that the European Union has commenced a fight against single-use plastic accessories to help protect the ocean and its inhabitants from plastic items. Although this directive will come to force in 2020, society and businesses may start realizing changes sooner.

The first step towards cleaning up the environment would be stopping the use of cocktail straws. During the event, businesses will be given stickers urging to stop using plastic straws at cafes, bars, restaurants and stores.

According to Danusēvičs, exclusion of plastic straws from trade in the future may be a step towards exacting ecological changes, which could be followed up by refusal to use unnecessary plastic bags, large packages, plastic cups, etc.

Full article here

QUESTION: Why did corruption watchdog chief lie about the information leak? Will he change his strategy now?

Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau chief Jēkabs Straume explains that when journalists had initially asked him about the possible information leak in relation to the criminal case involving Saeima deputy Askolds Kļaviņš he said he knew nothing because he had no idea information from the report to the prosecutor general had ended up in the hands of the press.

Straume also said that no head of a state institution would ever disclose information from restricted access documents. When Straume found out about the information leak, he admitted it and provided an explanation.

CPCB chief also said he is ready to publish the institution’s report addressed to Prosecutor General Ēriks Kalnmeiers regarding the possible information leak in relation to the Saeima deputy’s case if all permits have been received.

Straume mentioned after a meeting of the National Security Committee that he would sign approval for publication of this document. However, this requires permission from the investigator and supervisory prosecutor. He said the appropriate time for the publication of the document is after commencement of criminal prosecution.

When asked if there was an information leak in Kļaviņš’s case, Straume said he is «moderately convinced that it is not as though [Indulis] Emsis had information that CPCB has launched a criminal process for him to tell about it to Kļaviņš». At the same time, Straume said CPCB had requested Saeima to provide copies of receipts in March. «Do you think other ways for information distribution are not possible in this situation?» said the chief of the bureau, responding to the question regarding information in Emsis’ hands. He says the matter regarding information in Emsis’ hands has been checked by the prosecutor’s office.

Straume also told journalists that Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis did not disclose any information about Kļaviņš too early.

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Latvian government to expand Money Laundering Prevention Service’s capacity

On Tuesday, 25 September, Latvian government reached an agreement on the need to reorganize the supervision Cabinet of Ministers has over Money Laundering Prevention Service. At the same time, members of the government also agreed to expand the service’s capacity, Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola told journalists.

New natural gas tariffs approved in Latvia; those who use more gas will pay less

The Public Utilities Commission has approved AS Gaso’s submitted natural gas transmission system’s tariff project, which provides for the introduction of a fixed fee for connection to permitted load regardless of the consumed gas volume.

OCMA: majority of Latvian immigrants live in Britain, Ireland and Germany

The Office for Citizenship and Migration Affairs has calculated the exact number of Latvian citizens living abroad. The majority of Latvians reside in Britain, followed by Ireland, Germany , and USA, according to the data compiled in July 2018.

Sweden's head of government Löfven loses no-confidence vote

The head of Swedish government, Stefan Löfven has not received the support of parliamentary majority despite his left-wing block narrowly winning the parliamentary election earlier in the month.

CC: number of business merges on a rise in Latvia

In the first eight months of 2018, Competition Council made twelve decisions regarding business merges, which is 50% more than the number of similar decisions made in the same period of last year. Consolidation of market participants takes place the most often in retail trade of household goods, BNN was informed by the council.

EU supervisor to investigate Estonian and Danish banking authorities on Danske Bank

The banking supervisory authority of the European Union has been asked to investigate the work of Denmark and Estonia’s national banking watchdogs over possible shortcomings in failing to prevent money laundering through the Estonia branch of Danske Bank.

airBaltic receives its 12th Airbus A220-300 aircraft

Latvian airBaltic airline has received its twelfth Airbus A220-300 aircraft with registration number YL-CSN. The airline plans to have a total of fourteen Airbus A220-300 aircraft by the end of 2018.

In pictures: Pope Francis arrives in Tallinn

The head of the Roman Catholic church has been welcomed in Tallinn as he begins the last leg of the papal visit to the Baltic states devoted to their centenary.

Meteorologists say first autumn storm in Latvia to take place this week

On Tuesday, 25 September, atmospheric pressure in Latvia will increase and clouds will tend to reduce in the afternoon, as reported by Latvia’s Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Germany's largest bank required to improve fight against money laundering

The financial watchdog of Germany has called on Deutsche Bank to improve its measures against legalisation of dirty money.

Nearly 20,000 Latvians were living in Ireland in spring 2016

19,933 Latvian citizens were living in Ireland in spring 2016, according to census data from Ireland’s Central Statistical Bureau on the number of foreigners living in the country.

Russian protest leader Navalny detained right after previous detention

Alexei Navalny, a supporter of current protests in Russia against pension reform, has been released from administrative arrest, but arrested again on the same day to be kept in administrative arrest for another 20 days on charges of holding an illegal protest.

CPB: Russian special services remain highly interested about Latvia

Russian special services remain highly interested about Latvia’s internal politics. This includes 13th Saeima elections and their possible results. However, there is currently no information to suggest the election process could be influenced from the outside, admits Constitution Protection Bureau.

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.