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Tuesday 19.03.2019 | Name days: Jāzeps

BNN summary of the week: scandal at Rīgas satiksme; Lembergs’ possible prison sentence; and Latvia’s 2019 budget

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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: Court; Conclusion; Funding; Decline; Change?; Worry; Detained.

COURT: Prosecutor for Lembergs’ case: criminal proceedings should be made more efficient

Criminal proceedings should be made more efficient, says prosecutor Juris Juriss, who is responsible for the criminal case involving suspended Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs.

According to him, Lembergs’ criminal case is one of the longest processes the prosecutor has ever experienced. Because of that, he believes it is important to discuss the possibility of making criminal proceedings more efficient.

Juriss says over the course of the past ten years, while Lembergs’ case was being processed, the legislator has added several changes to regulations to make proceedings more efficient. However, Lembergs’ case and similar processes the legislator can influence, speeding proceedings at the trial stage.

According to Juriss, currently the pre-trial period for criminal cases is much shorter than the trial process itself.

Incidentally, the next court hearing for Lembergs’ criminal case is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. 11 March.

During court debates on Thursday, 7 March, the prosecutor’s office asked the court to sentence infamous Ventspils City Council chairman Aivars Lembergs to eight years in prison with confiscation of property, as well as a fine of EUR 64,500, as confirmed by prosecutor Juris Juriss.

Full article here

CONCLUSION: Latvian Saeima to take more time discussing state president candidates

On Thursday, 7 March, Latvia’s Saeima approved amendments to the State President Election Law in the final reading. These amendments provide for extending the period between proposal of presidential candidates and Saeima’s vote for them, as BNN was told by the parliament’s press-service.

Information on candidates for the post of state president is to be submitted to the Saeima Praesidium in writing no earlier than 60 and no later than 55 days before the end of the ruling president’s term. Until now information was usually submitted no earlier than 50 and no later than 45 days before the end of the ruling president’s term.

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FUNDING: Latvian government approves 2019 budget draft

On Tuesday, 5 March, Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a legislative draft for the state budget of 2019, as confirmed by Finance Ministry’s representatives.

2019 state consolidated budget’s revenue is planned at EUR 9.2 billion, whereas expenditures are planned at EUR 9.4 billion. Base budget’s planned revenue is EUR 6.4 billion, whereas expenditures are planned at EUR 6.8 billion. Revenue of the state special budget is planned at EUR 3 billion, whereas expenditures are planned at EUR 2.8 billion. The deficit of the 2019 general government budget is planned at 0.5% of GDP. GDP growth for 2019 is planned to be 3%.

Last year, members of the government continued reviewing state budget expenditures during talks with ministries. As a result, ministries prepared proposals to increase funding for their respectable industries. Focus is put on efficiency in use of state real estate properties and ICT industry’s optimization, as well as review of allocated funding. The result of total review of expenditures in 2019 is EUR 51.3 million. Of this amount, EUR 7.6 million will be diverted to the improvement of the general fiscal space, whereas EUR 43.7 million will be allocated for different priorities of the country’s priorities.

This year’s budget includes an additional amount of EUR 87.5 million, which will be allocated to increase teachers’ wages. EUR 8.9 million will be used to increase wages of judges and prosecutors, as well as EUR 4.8 million will be allocated to increase of wages of social care workers. EUR 41.3 million is planned to be allocated as support for retirement pensions for interior affairs and justice sector officers with special ranks.

EUR 7.2 million is planned to be allocated to finance implementation of recommendations from Moneyval.

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DECLINE: women are paid 10% smaller wages than men in the same jobs

Men in Latvia earn 10% than women in the same jobs, according to data from Paylab, which works in Latvia together with CV-Online database, studying long-term wage trends.

Comparison of wages is based on identical factors – the same jobs, workload, worker experience, education and skills.

The situation across the Baltic States is relatively similar – women are paid 11% less in Lithuania, 10% less in Latvia and 9% less than men in Estonia.

Analysis of wage discrepancy shows that one major factor is a person’s choice of profession and industry.

«Women still prefer jobs that allow balancing family and private life, which also affects wages and career options. However, we have to admit that employers often try promoting diversity at work by creating appropriate working conditions for women to provide them with equal career options and motivation to return to work after childcare leave,» says CV-Online Latvia marketing and communication manager Krista Roziņa.

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CHANGE?: Latvia’s environment minister may dismiss Riga’s mayor in three weeks

After looking at the work performed by Riga City Council and the answers provided to previously asked questions, Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce uncovered several violations of the law. With that, he does not discount the possibility of dismissing Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs in approximately three weeks, the minister said in an interview to LNT programme 900 seconds.

Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry is in the process of checking the work done by Riga City Council in accordance with legal procedures. Answers signed by Ušakovs show that the city council has committed violations of the law in the municipality, explains the minister.

The ministry has yet to receive more answers from Riga City Council. After receiving and going through answers provided so far, the ministry submitted more questions in regards to uncovered violations. Pūce says the evaluation process may conclude in three weeks.

Once the process is complete the minister will decide on whether or not Ušakovs should be dismissed.

Full article here

WORRY: Swedish authorities look into Swedbank complaint by anti-money laundering activist

Swedish law enforcement has been asked to investigate suspicion filed by British anti-corruption investor Bill Browder over alleged transactions to Swedbank from Danske Bank’s Estonian branch and Lithuanian UKIO Bank.

Reuters news agency reports that Browder’s complaint alleges that about USD 176 million (EUR 157) from Danske Bank’s Estonian branch and Lithuania’s UKIO Bank had been wired to Swedbank accounts.

The complaint expresses allegations that this links the Swedish bank to money laundering relating to a tax fraud exposed by Browder’s former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009.

Browder filed the complaint against Swedbank with authorities including Swedish prosecutors and police, the finance ministry and the economic crime authority.

Full article here

DETAINED: Corruption watchdog detains another Rīgas satiksme official for bribery

Latvia’s Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau has detained Honour to Serve Riga member, Rīgas karte boardmember and Rīgas satiksme official Aleksandrs Brandavs over suspicions of bribery.

On Tuesday, 6 March, the bureau commenced a criminal process against SIA Rīgas karte official for possible criminal acts – bribery and mediation in bribery.

Materials of the criminal case contain information regarding the handing of a bribe to a mediator to be passed to another official in order to secure decisions favourable to the person who gave the bribe.

One person has been detained in the criminal process. According to information from LETA, this person is Brandavs. He was detained on Wednesday, 6 March.

The investigation is currently in early stages. More detailed information will be provided by KNAB once it is clear it won’t impede the investigation.

The law permits detaining a person for up to 48 hours. Once this term is over, authorities can decide on extending it or applying a security measure. The most severe security measure is an arrest, which is decided on by the court.

Brandavs is a board member in SIA Rīgas karte, manager of Rīgas satiksme’s Electronic Transactions and Projects Office, as well as the true beneficiary in Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme.

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Latvian prime minister urges sorting the system, not raising taxes

A number of sectors require reforms to avoid raising taxes to increase revenue, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš during a meeting of Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, 18 March.

Stoltenberg calls NATO the most successful alliance in world history

NATO is the strongest, most successful alliance in history, wrote NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an article dedicated to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Heavy rainfall in Indonesia causes floods and landslides; death toll reaches 77

Approximately 77 people have been killed in mountain villages hit by floods and landslides caused by intense rainfall in Indonesia’s Papua Province, according to the latest information reported by Indonesian authorities.

Number of job vacancies in Latvia up 33.4% in 2018

In 2018, there were 22.7 thousand job vacancies in Latvia, which is 5.7 thousand vacancies or 33.4 % more than in 2017.

Swedbank: more than 1,400 Latvian families purchased property in regions last year

In 2018, Swedbank had issued more than 1,400 loans for property purchases within 50 km radius around Riga. This is an average of six loans issued every work day, as reported by Swedbank representative Jānis Krops.

Minister: Latvia may require radical image change because of finance sector’s problems

Considering the problems in the country’s finance sector, it will be necessary to work on radically changing the country’s image, says Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs.

Riga Mayor’s wife suspected of dubious employed in public water supply company

For eight years Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs’ office manager Iveta Strautiņa-Ušakova worked as a consultant for municipal water supply company Rīgas Ūdens, as reported by LTV investigative journalism programme De Facto.

Latvian Centre Party to take part in European Parliament elections

A list of candidates compiled by Centre Party from Latvia has been submitted for European Parliament elections. The list is composed of fifteen candidates. This makes it the fifth list of candidates to be submitted for EP elections in Latvia so far, as reported by Central Election Commission.

Air temperature in Latvia to stay positive this week; more precipitation expected

Weather will be dominated by cyclone activity this week. Wind speed will also increase in the country’s western parts in the first half of the week. At the end of the week, air temperature to become chilly at night, as reported by Latvian State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Week in Lithuania. N-plant invites bids for repository construction contract

Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, which was shut down a decade ago and is now being decommissioned, invited bids for the construction of a 100-million-euro near surface repository for low and intermediate level short-lived radioactive waste.

BNN summary of the week: when is Brexit? Estonia’s government worries; more problems with Rīgas satiksme

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Attempt; Decision; Investigation; Scandal; Legislation; Expectation.

Suspect in criminal case leaves post in Alkom-Trans

SIA Alkom-Trans chairman Aleksandrs Krjačeks, who is a suspect in a criminal case regarding SIA Rīgas satiksme’s procurements, has decided to step down, according to information from Lursoft.

Eurostat: Latvia had higher annual inflation than average in EU and Eurozone

In February 2019, Latvia’s inflation was higher than the average in European Union and Eurozone, according to data published by Eurostat on Friday, 15 March.

Harmony and New Harmony to compete for seats in European Parliament

Association of parties Alternative Party, which received only 0.34% support from voters in the recent Saeima elections, has decided to start in upcoming European Parliament elections with a new name – New Harmony, as reported by Latvijas Radio.

ABLV Bank’s liquidators recover assets worth EUR 37.938 million in February

In February 2019, liquidators of ABLV Bank had successfully recovered assets worth EUR 37.938 million, which is 21% less than a month prior, according to the annual account published in Latvian Herald.

Polish Catholic church reveals mass child sex abuse by clergy

The administration of the Polish Catholic Church has stated it has since 1990 registered child sex abuse affecting 625 underage victims by 382 clergymen. Poland's Catholic Church authorities revealed the data on Thursday, March 14.

Insurer: children receive 11% more injuries during school breaks

During school breaks the frequency at which children receive injuries is 11% higher when compared to the year’s average, according to data from BTA Baltic Insurance Company.

Survey: one-fifth of Latvian residents do not protect their data on mobile phones

Although modern smartphones have several security options that help protect user data, results of a survey by Samsung Electronics Baltics show that 19% of Latvian residents do not use any of those data protection options.

Estonia's Ratas rejects Verhofstadt's opinion on coalition with anti-migrant party

Belgian member of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, has urged acting Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas not to build a government coalition with the anti-migrant Conservative People's Party of Estonia.

Opinion: Baltic residents have cooled down towards Russian-Ukrainian conflict

Ever since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula five years ago it seems a ‘cooling process’ has begun among residents of Baltic States in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, said University of Latvia researcher Mārtiņš Kaprāns in an interview to LNT programme Rīta Panorāma on Friday, 15 March.

New Zealand shaken by tragic terror attacks in mosques

40 people have lost their lives in New Zealand, where terror attacks have been committed in two mosques in the city Christchurch today, according to the country's government. The tragic events have taken place on Friday, March 15.

Minister: EC should not be allowed to cut financing to countries with low court independence

From the perspective of the European Union’s legislation and democracy, European Commission should not be given rights to halt funding only because EC thinks the rule of law is insufficient in some country, says Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs.

EU's Tusk to call for long delay of Brexit

European Council President Donald Tusk has said he will invited to EU leaders «to be open to a long extension» of the Brexit deadline, if the UK needs to rethink its strategy and get consensus after it decided to ask for a delay.

Weather to remain rainy in Latvia; air temperature expected above 0° C

At the end of the week, a cyclone will approach Latvia from Scandinavia’s side, which will bring rain and wet snow to many parts of Latvia, as reported by State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Latvian Saeima votes to make mental healthcare more accessible

In the near future, it is planned to significantly improve accessibility of mental healthcare in Latvia. The goal is to provide residents with evidence-based, modern, quality mental healthcare. This is provided by the Plan to Improve Access to Mental Health Care for 2019-2020 approved announced at the State Secretaries meeting of Thursday, 14 March, as confirmed by Healthcare Ministry’s representative Anna Strapcāne.