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Ceturtdiena 09.04.2020 | Name days: Valērija, Žubīte
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BNN summary of the week: Ventspils Freeport free of sanctions. Toxic Lembergs. Farewell to Riga City Council

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Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ventspils Freeport, sanctions, OFAC, Aivars Lembergs, corruption, budget, KNAB, recommendedIt is often the case when problems left unattended start getting resolved only when the situation starts getting worse. This is why the application of US sanctions against suspended Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs, who is also accused of committing serious crimes, and four organizations under his influence basically forced the government to start resolving the port problem.

Ex-head of security of Riga Freeport authority Andris Purmalis was appointed as Ventspils Freeport’s CEO. The government also formed a state company – Ventas osta – to take over all functions of Ventspils Freeport. Soon after this decision, USA removed sanctions from Ventspils Freeport.

Meanwhile, Lembergs and three organizations associated with him – Ventspils Development Agency, Business Development Association and Latvian Transit Business Association – remain under US sanctions.

«Lembergs has become toxic,» commentators say and fact prove as much. Organizations continue frantically leaving Ventspils Development Agency, the only objective of which, it seems, was paying Lembergs a generous wage. Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) has initiated an investigation to see if sanctions against Lembergs threaten state funding for political organizations associated with him – For Latvia and Ventsils and Union of Greens and Farmers.

From one craze to another – Saeima paves the way towards dismissal of Riga City Council. The parliament supported in the first reading the plan for the dismissal of Riga City Council, but prior to that the parliament decided to permit election of a city council for longer than five years.

This option seems tempting for many. Previously there had been talks about ex-Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs leaving the European Parliament to run in Riga City Council elections. It is possible he will have to compete not only with the opposition but with former partners – Honour to Serve Riga – as well, as the party has decided to run in elections without Harmony.

The BNN gives you a summary of the key events of the past week, told in news stories of the following topics: Solutions and results; Toxic Lembergs; Farewell to Riga City Council (?); New order; Lithuania’s budget and Failure.

SOLUTIONS AND RESULTS

Coalition agrees to found AS Ventas osta to perform Ventspils Freeport’s functions

Aivars Lembergs, sanctions, USA, Tālis Linkaits, Magnitsky law, Ventas osts, Ventspils Freeport, OFAC

Latvia’s Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits

To resolve the emergency situation with Ventspils Freeport, Latvia’s coalition has agreed to found a new state company that would take over the rights, duties and functions of Ventspils Freeport.

Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits said after a meeting of the coalition parties on Monday, 16 December, the parties agreed to discuss foundation of a new state company to take over Ventspils Freeport’s rights, duties and functions.

Additionally, an agreement has been reached to have the government and the Saeima to discuss amendments to the Law on Ports and Law on Ventspils Freeport to allow legal transfer of functions to the new state company.

«Our goal is forming a new structure as quickly as possible and delegate to it the function of signing contracts with business active at the port and ship agents to ensure ships are able to enter the port,» said the minister.

The new state company may be named Ventas osta and its council may consist of representatives of four ministries. Ministries would delegate representatives to the company’s council. The existing Ventspils Freeport authority may be maintained for a time so that it is able to hand over all existing assets to the new state company.

Full article here

Freeport authority: Ventspils port has returned to operating normally

Ventspils, sanctions, OFAC, Aivars Lembergs, Ventspils Freeport authority, Ventas ostaWith the US Department of Treasury Office for Foreign Asset Control (OCMA) lifting sanctions against Ventspils Freeport and Ventspils Freeport authority, the port has returned to operating normally, as announced by Ventspils Freeport authority public relations head Inga Ieviņa.

«With the announcement from US Department of Treasury Office for Foreign Asset Control regarding abolishment of sanctions, Ventspils Freeport authority, as well as companies active at the port are able to continue their operations,» as outlined in the port’s statement. Currently there are two ships at the port – one dry cargo vessel and one tanker. Three more ships are expected to arrive today – a tanker, dry cargo vessel and a ferry.

On Thursday, 19 December, Ventspils Freeport CEO Andris Purmalis met with representatives of all terminals and stevedore companies active at the port «to thank businessmen for their understanding, responsiveness and psychological resilience in the crisis situation the freeport had ended up».

Purmalis stressed that each port terminal should see itself in the port’s investment plan. This is why the CEO will soon organize individual meetings with each terminal to discuss how the freeport’s authority can participate in improving the terminal’s and the entire port’s cargo turnover.

Full article here

TOXIC LEMBERGS

KNAB to assess if sanctions against Lembergs are ground for ending state funding for UGF

KNAB, Aivars Lembergs, corruption, sanctions, USA, OFAC, Ventspils Freeport, Ventas ostaCorruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) has commenced an inspection to see if the US sanctions applied against the suspended Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs could serve as ground for terminating state budget funding for the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS).

KNAB affirms that the bureau has started to review if the US sanctions applied against Lembergs could also apply to political parties For Latvia and Ventspils and ZZS.

Currently ZZS is eligible to state funding of EUR 59 409 following the 13th Saeima elections of 2018. This year the Saeima decided to increase funding for parties, which means starting with 2020 ZZS will start receiving EUR 489 163 a year. The first payment to the party’s account needs to be performed by 15 January 2020.

Lembergs is chairman of For Latvia and Ventspils political party. This party is also a partner party to ZZS.

On Tuesday, 17 December, Ventspils Freeport board decided to appoint Andris Purmalis as the new CEO of the freeport, as reported by Latvian Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits.

On Monday, 9 December, US Department of Treasury Office for Foreign Asset Control, based on the so-called Magnitsky law, established sanctions against a number of private persons and their organizations in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Aivars Lembergs is among those people.

Full article here

FAREWELL TO RIGA CITY COUNCIL (?)

Saeima decides: Riga City Council will be allowed to be elected for more than five years if dismissed

Riga City Council, election, dismissal, term, committeeIn spite of opposition deputies’ objections and opposition from one coalition party, members of the ruling coalition adopted amendments to laws on Thursday, 19 December, allowing election of Riga City Council for a term of longer than five years in the event of its dismissal.

Four coalition parties, as well as non-party deputy Anda Čakša and two KPV LV members Artuss Kaimiņš and Aldis Blumbergs, voted in favour of amendments to the Law on Local Governments and Law on Elections of the Republic City Council and Municipality Council. One legislative draft received 52 votes and the other – 51 votes. The rest of the KPV LV party and opposition parties voted against aforementioned changes. Union of Greens and Farmers deputy Janīna Jalinska was the only one who abstained in the vote.

The aforementioned legislative drafts were included to the 19 December meeting of the Saeima. Coalition deputies called it an unprecedented situation and did not take into account the opinion of Public Administration and Local Government Committee.

Full article here

NEW ORDER

Saeima conceptually supports changes for prosecutor general’s approval

prosecutor general, Saeima, amendments, Justice Council, Constitutional CourtLatvia’s Saeima has conceptually supported amendments to the Law on the Office of the Prosecutor and the Law on Judicial Power, which provide for changing the order in which the prosecutor general is approved in position, as reported by the parliament’s press-service.

As previously emphasized by Saeima’s Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee’s chairman Juris Rancāns, it is necessary to improve the procedure before the end of the term of Latvia’s incumbent prosecutor general.

The proposed changes provide for expanding the range of candidates, stating that candidates aged 40 years with 15 years of experience working as academic staff in a law college, judge, sworn attorney or prosecutor are allowed to become candidates for the post of prosecutor general.

It is also intended for the prosecutor general to be elected following the proposal from the Justice Council, not the Supreme Court’s chairman, from now on. It is planned for the Justice Council to form a separate committee to assess candidates. The proposed changes also state that the committee needs to include one representative from judges, one candidate delegated by the State President, one representative from the Constitutional Court, as well as one representative from the Justice Ministry and Association of Latvian Prosecutors.

Full article here

LITHUANIA’S BUDGET

Lithuania adopts state budget with higher corporate tax on banks

Lithuania, state budget, Gabrielius Landsbergis, Vilnius, SeimasThe Lithuanian legislature has on Wednesday passed the state budget. It sets forth increasing the corporate tax on banks and new tax on polluting cars.

Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reports that the bill was adopted by the votes of the ruling coalition: the Farmers and Greens Union, the Social Democratic Labour Party, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, and the group ‘For Lithuania’s Welfare’. Four opposition liberal MPs also voted for the budget, as have most non-attached members.

Promises or expectations

Opposition MPs found ways to express their disapproval during the debate. The conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats group donned their seats with posters saying «Don’t break promises». Raises to public sector workers’ pay were too small, they insisted, and not even close to what had been promised.

«Teachers, doctors, nurses – one could point at every social group the government promised something and didn’t deliver,» said conservative leader Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Social democratic MP Rasa Budbergytė said the bill was not socially just enough: «This budget does not even sufficiently target social exclusion, it does not tackle income inequality which is not going down in Lithuania.»

The prime minister said the problem was high expectations. «But it must be said that, today, expectations have been met and, importantly, we met the fiscal compact rules and will have a surplus in our budget,» Skvernelis evaluated.

Full article here

FAILURE

Estonian pharmacy reform rejected in parliament after U-turn in substance

pharmacy, Estonia, drugstore, pharmacy reform

A general view of Estonian Parliament session hall

The Estonian parliament has on Tuesday narrowly defeated the push of the government to amend the country’s Medicines Act as opposition reasoned that the Riigikogu had to show it is not «possible to buy legislation».

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that the ruling coalition had scrapped an earlier set of reforms which would have placed more control of the pharmacies sector in the hands of individual pharmacists

After pressure from pharmacy chain lobby groups the government replaced them with a bill which was more or less the opposite, ERR evaluated.

So on Tuesday, December 17, the draft proposal to amend the Medicines Act was rejected, with 50 votes in support, 46 votes against and none impartial, at the 101-seat Riigikogu.

Full article here


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Court of first instance rejects Ušakovs’ appeal on dismissal as mayor of Riga

On Wednesday, 8 April, the Administrative District Court rejected Harmony politician Nils Ušakovs’ applications in which he appealed the order issued by Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce on his dismissal from the post of mayor of Riga, as reported by the court.

Latest on COVID-19 in Baltics. 577 in Latvia, 912 in Lithuania, 1 185 in Estonia

The number of COVID-19 infection cases in Latvia has reached 577, increasing by 29 cases in the past day. Lithuanian media, meanwhile, report 912 confirmed infection cases. Public data in Estonia reports 1 185 infection cases in this Baltic State.

Inflation in Republic of Latvia reportedly at 1.4% in March

Compared to March 2019, the average level of consumer prices rose by 1.4 % in March 2020. Prices of goods have increased by 0.9 % and prices of services by 2.7 %.

Lithuania’s BC chief: «Latvia’s COVID-19 support for business has been swifter»

It is official: Lithuania is extending lockdown until April 27 to combat the coronavirus pandemic which death toll in the country stood at 15 as of Wednesday noon. As many as 912 persons were diagnosed with COVID-19 by then.

Lithuania on path to allow price regulation in government

In Lithuania, the majority of legislators in the Seimas, have backed draft amendments that set forth allowing the government to regulate the prices of essential goods during this time of quarantine, Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT reports.

BNN EXPLAINS | Envelope wages – one of the main reasons why idleness benefits may be denied

People need certainty – if they honestly pay taxes, they should be able to receive support from the state in the event of a crisis, since they have taken care of the state all this time by paying taxes, BNN was told in a phone conversation by chairman of LBAS Egils Baldzēns.

Criminal process launched against Aivars Lembergs for defamation

On 7 April 2020 State Police Kurzeme RP Saldus Department’s Criminal Police Office commenced a criminal process against Aivars Lembergs for untrue statements and claims he has used on multiple occasions during meetings of Ventspils City Council and Finance Committee against city council deputy Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis, as BNN was told by Kristovskis.

Latvia’s Prime Minister: we are financially well-situated in this crisis

We are financially well-situated in this crisis, said Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in an interview to LTV programme Rīta panorama.

Latvian government supports dismissal of State Land Service’s director general

Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers has supported Justice Ministry’s prepared decision project that details the dismissal of the State Land Service director general Solvitai Zvidriņa from her post, as confirmed by Justice Ministry.

China lifts lockdown in Wuhan

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global pandemic of COVID-19 began, a lockdown has been lifted for the first time since January, British news portal The Guardian reports.

Support in Latvia for COVID-19 crisis prevention reaches four billion euros

The volume of support available in Latvia to finance preventive measures to overcome COVID-19 crisis has reached four billion euros, as reported by Latvian Finance Minister Jānis Reirs on Tuesday, 7 April.

Another month stuck home. Latvian government extends state of emergency

The state of emergency declared in Latvia because of COVID-19 pandemic has been extended until 12 May, as confirmed by Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs on social media on 7 April.

75 reports on competition distortions reported to Competition Council in 2019

Last year, the Competition Council received a total of 75 reports related to competition distortions caused by public persons, according to information listed in the latest public account for the institution’s more significant accomplishments in 2019 and developments in competition rights enforcement in Latvia.

Australia quashes child abuse convictions against cardinal Pell

A court in Australia has overturned child sex abuse convictions against cardinal George Pell after he was found guilty and received a prison term, British news portal The Guardian reports.

Education and Science Ministry considers not cancelling centralized exams

Latvia’s Education and Science Ministry considers the option to not cancel centralized exams, especially for 12th graders, as reported on Tuesday, 7 April, by Education Minister Ilga Šuplinska during a meeting with Saeima’s Education, Culture and Science Committee.

Estonian government in two minds on cutting public spending to help economy

Should public spending be cut to help restore the economy? Two of the three parties in the Estonian government have opposing views on this as economic recovery is increasingly discussed, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports.

Riga International Airport plans to lay off 500 employees

Because of consequences caused by COVID-19, Riga International Airport plans to lay off 500 employees, as BNN was informed by the company.

Poland planning to hold presidential election as postal ballot

The Polish presidential election in May should be held as a postal ballot, the country’s legislators have decided. Opponents of the idea argue that this means putting public health at risk, British-Canadian news agency Reuters reports.

COVID-19 update in Baltics. 548 infected in Latvia, 880 in Lithuania, 1 149 in Estonia

The total number of confirmed coronavirus COVID-19 infection cases in Latvia has reached 548, increasing by six in the past day.

Latvian president urges not to sort idleness benefit recipients based on tax debts

When assessing whether or not a company meets requirements for idleness benefit eligibility, Latvia’s President Egils Levits urges the government to not sort them based on tax debts.

British PM Johnson treated from COVID-19 in intensive care

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved to intensive care in London with his COVID-19 symptoms worsening as the outbreak is claiming more lives in the United Kingdom, British news portal The Guardian reports.

Riga City Council snap elections pushed back to 5 September

The ruling coalition in Latvia has agreed to push back Riga City Council snap elections to 5 September, as journalists were told by politicians after a meeting of ruling parties on Monday, 6 April.

US death toll of COVID-19 nears 11 000

The US, which is the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections, has on Tuesday, April 7, reached a total number of COVID-19-related deaths of 10 986, according to the US John Hopkins University and German public broadcaster DW.

Prime Minister says Latvia will neither enhance nor relieve restrictions

We do not plan to enhance restrictive measures, but neither do we plan to relieve restrictions – the storm is not over. Nevertheless, we are on the correct path, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in an interview to Latvijas Radio.

Spanish coronavirus death toll drops for fourth day in a row

In Spain, for the fourth day a row, the number of COVID-19 related deaths per day has decreased as the country has the most confirmed cases in infection in Europa, BBC reports.


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