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Monday 20.05.2019 | Name days: Venta, Salvis, Selva

Latvian oligarchs set their sights on Russian freight transit in Lithuania

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUIt seems former Latvian political heavyweights Ainārs Šlesers and Andris Šķēle have set their sights on Kaliningrad with intention to make some easy money in spite of warnings from Latvian, Lithuanian and other countries’ security services regarding this territory owned by the Russian Federation. The two eccentric businessmen have founded a company that employs Lithuanian and Latvian railway company heads held suspect of corruption, as reported by TV3 programme Nekā personīga.

The two of them together with Russian Railway subsidiary are trying to take over Russian freight transit through Lithuania all the way to Kaliningrad. Lithuanian authorities are rather skeptical about this initiative from the two Latvian businessmen, as they see several potential risks for their country’s security, journalists say.

When most European countries decided to impose sanctions against Russian Railway’s then chief Vladimir Yakunin, Latvia decided not to cut ties with Russia. Transport Ministry explained that imposing sanctions would result in a considerable financial impact for Latvia.

Yakunin not only has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin but also good friendship with heads of Latvian and Lithuanian railway companies Uģis Magonis and Stasys Dailydka. This friendship kept on even after Yakunin was forced to leave his post. Now business interests of the once onfluential men have been spotted in Lithuania, as reported by Nekā personīga.

Six years ago Lithuania experienced a scandal, when Lithuanian Anti-Corruption Agency commenced an investigation against Lithuania’s national railway company. Authorities suspected vice-chairman of the company Stasys Gudvalis of artificially increasing railway procurement prices and taking part in corruptive activities. His superior defended him, but Gudvalis was dismissed after all because of public pressure. Six months later the company’s director general was forced to leave his post. The reason was that he had attempted bribing a local journalist in order to prepare a favourable report about the railway company.

Half a year ago both of the aforementioned men were appointed to the board of LGC Cargo.

Researching the corruption scandal, journalists in Lithuania found out what happened to the heads of the country’s national railway company. They found new jobs largely thanks to several influential businessmen from Latvia. These businessmen have set their sights on taking over Russian freight transit in Lithuania, as reported by Nekā Personīga.

In July 2018, Šlesers started working at LGC Cargo. He represents the interests of Russian business in the company. Both he and Magonis also work in Euro Rail Trans, whose controlling package of shares is owned by Russian Railway subsidiary RDZ Logistika. Lithuanian media say business ties in Russia reach as far as Yakunin, with whom both Šlesers and Magonis is in a good relationship. Andris Šķēle’s interests are also represented in the Lithuanian company together with Šlesers and Magonis.

Since last summer LGC Cargo has expanded its board to include Ivars Sormulis. He is chairman of Baltic Transit Service – one of Latvia’s largest private railway operators. This company’s controlling package of shares is owned by Riga Commercial Port, which is co-owned by Šlesers and Šķēle. According to Nekā Personīga, Sormulis provided the address of some building in Monaco as his declared residence to Lithuania’s Enterprise Registry. His brother – Ansis – sits with Aivars Lembergs on the bench of the accused in the so-called Ventspils officials criminal case.

Lithuanian media also mention Magonis’ wife Anastasija, who also has ties to this business idea. In the past several years her name has come up in some other company – Railways Invest. This company is indirectly owned by two Russian citizens and former high-rank KGB official Yuri Shabashov.

LGC Cargo representatives have told Lithuanian media that they want to get their hands on transit freight Russia sends through Lithuania to Kaliningrad. However, authorities have yet to issue the necessary permits to allow the business to move forward. Lithuanian Transport Minister explains this with matters of security – transit from Russia would mean increased risks. Local security institutions have given prior warnings that Russia could potentially use this particular railway route from different military activities, TV3 programme reports.

Šlesers and Šķēle refused to discuss their business ideas with Nekā Personīga. Euro Trans Rails board advisor Magonis has confirmed the company has far-reaching plans for management of Russian cargo in Lithuania.

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