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Wednesday 20.11.2019 | Name days: Anda, Andīna

Latvia’s high-rank politicians may be involved in scandalous construction cartel

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From left: Solvita Āboltiņa, Edgars Jaunups, Dana Reizniece-Ozola

Names of a dozen current and former well-known Latvian politicians are mentioned in the so-called construction cartel criminal case, including Finance Minister Jānis Reirs, politician Edgars Jaunups, former finance and economy minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola, ex-chairperson of Unity political party Solvita Āboltiņa and Saeima deputy Jānis Urbanovičs, Ir magazine reports.

The magazine writes that there are at least five bribery episodes in the criminal case. Investigators suspect construction companies may have paid bribes to officials and the money was later registered service and consultation contracts, as well as donations to different organizations.

Ir magazine also reminds the conversations recorded in Taureņi bath house several years ago. This conversation served as the main reason why Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) launched three other criminal processes – the bribery case involving Bank of Latvia governor Ilmārs Rimšēvičs, Rīgas Satiksme’s criminal case and Rīgas Karte corruption scandal case.

The conversation recorded in the bath house suggests bribes to people close to the government, and in this case there are suggestions of a prohibited agreement in the construction sector, Ir magazine reports.

Ir magazine found out that Urbanovičs has testified in KNAB’s construction cartel case.

On 5 September Urbanovičs claimed he had not been to KNAB office and he has no knowledge of the case in question. He has confirmed to Ir magazine, however, that KNAB had «visited» him in the Saeima. Urbanovičs said he cannot reveal what they had discussed. He did say the discussed topic had nothing to do with the construction case.

«They were interested in third parties I have, so to say, crossed,» said Urbanovičs.

Information provided by Ir magazine’s sources shows that ex-finance and economy minister of Latvia Dana Reizniece-Ozola has also been interviewed by KNAB in relation to this case. The ex-minister denies this. She has yet to communicate with KNAB again. She also says she has no relation to construction companies.

«I have neither private nor professional relations to any of the construction companies. It is the opposite for the time when I was minister – in both finance and economy ministry I have tried to prevent situations when construction companies kick open doors,» says the ex-minister.

Minister Reirs has not been invited to testify at KNAB. «No, this is the first time I’ve heard of this,» said the minister, adding that he as Latvia’s finance minister has had dealings with construction companies. This includes the supervision of the use of money provided by European funds. However, he has never had any association to any construction projects.

Even Jaunups has told Ir magazine that he has not met with KNAB representatives. Nor is he directly or indirectly involved in lobbying interests of businesses. He says he has not received any money from construction companies.

Former Unity head Āboltiņa, who is now Latvia’s ambassador to Italy, told Ir magazine that she has not been to KNAB yet.

«Absolute rubbish! I’ve not been to Taureņi bath house (I don’t even know where it is), I’ve not had any association to any construction companies,» Āboltiņa responded in a text message. She also wrote that she does personally know construction company Arčers owner Armands Garkāns.

Ex-president of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis, who is a witness in the criminal process, denies having any relation to this case. He stressed in a telephone conversation that he is unable to comment on questions KNAB asked him. He only said that the conversation was about other people’s actions, not his.

It is known, however, that Vējonis may have been attached to this case because of his past as Defence Minister of Latvia.

KNAB is interested to know more about Arčers and its eight victories in military procurements organized between 2015 and 2018 worth a total of EUR 42 million.

«I can neither confirm nor deny this. I have signed a non-disclosure agreement,» said Vējonis. As defence minister he did not know much about procurements.

In its 4 September statement KNAB wrote that two persons were detained on 3 September. The two were later released with no security measures. A total of six people have rights for defence in this criminal process. KNAB has yet to announce any suspects.

On 8 September public broadcaster LTV programme De Facto reported that five representatives of construction companies have the rights for defence – ex-chairman of SIA Skonto Būve Guntis Rāvis, ex-co-owner of SIA Skonto Būve Ivars Millers, LNK Group board chairman Artjoms Milovs, co-owner of Arčers and Binders companies Garkāns and businessman Māris Martinsons, as well as one politician – mayor of Valmiera Jānis Baiks.

On 10 September KNAB chief Jēkabs Straume confirmed in an interview to LNT programme 900 seconds that all six people involved in the criminal process have the right for defence. He did not mention any names.

The only lawyer who has publicly confirmed his client is applied with the aforementioned status is Rāvis’ lawyer Dmitrijs Skačkovs.

LETA is aware that the aforementioned status has been applied to Milovs, too, but his lawyer Jānis Rozenbergs did not provide comments on this.

<i>Ir</i> magazine reports that the only politician involved in this case applied with this status is Baiks. A search has been performed in the office of the mayor of Valmiera.

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