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Political cocktail: the most notable events of Latvia’s political life in 2018

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU2018 was rather active for Latvia’s ‘political cocktail bar’ – there have been ‘drinks’ with corruption, ambition, even cocaine and KGB flavours. BNN offers a rundown of what Latvia experienced this past year.

The Ilmārs Rimšēvičs saga

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe investigation against the governor of the Bank of Latvia commenced 15 February. On the very next day Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau performed searches in his office and home. On Saturday, 17 February, Rimšēvičs was greeted at Riga International Airport by KNAB officers.

Rimšēvičs is held suspect of requesting and accepting a large bribe. The estimated size of the bribe in question is around EUR 100,000.

KNAB reported that the criminal case in question is not associated with the credit institutions working in Latvia or the statements from US Department of Treasury about ABLV Bank, or even the potential litigation between the Latvian state and Norvik Bank. It may be related to Trasta komercbanka. Both KNAB and Rimšēvičs neither confirm nor deny this.

Criminal prosecution against Rimšēvičs and businessman Māris Martinsons commenced 28 June.

Meanwhile Rimšēvičs’ permit to access official secrets has been revoked. His authority as the governor of the Bank of Latvia has also been restricted.

The much desired seat of the director general of SRS

The failed personnel selection processes of Latvia’s State Revenue Service. Some call them attempts by politicians to put their own person in the seat of this institution’s chief, some blame the bureaucratic processes, whereas others are confused why names of potential candidates are kept secret. The fight for the much desired seat turned out not only exciting but also with a certain taste of fears, because as soon as candidates became more or less promising in the eyes of the personnel selection committee, the skeletons in their closets started rattling their bones. Is there truly no ‘completely clean’ person in Latvia fit for the post, or is it the aversion towards putting an honest person in his post?

The post of the chief of SRS became vacant when the previous chief – Ilze Cīrule – unexpectedly died on the night to 10 March 2018. She remained in this post from November 2016.

A personnel selection process for the post was announced soon after. Former LTV board member Māris Skujiņš won it, but he later withdrew his candidacy when concerns were voiced in regards to his reputation. He was linked to the scandalous businessman Māris Martinsons. Latvia’s Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola also received a share of criticisms, as she was the one responsible for finding an appropriate candidate. Skujiņš said the whole situation was nothing more than a ‘black PR campaign’ against him.

The latest personnel selection process has concluded. Ieva Jaunzeme was declared the winner.

She previously worked in Economy Ministry’s administration. She had also worked as the state secretary in Welfare Ministry. Additionally, the potential new head of SRS was in charge of the Competition Council for six years. Before then she worked as advisor in Latvia’s representation in the European Union.

In spite of positive feedback from members of the committee, the day of approval of the new head of SRS remains unclear.

90s style murder

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUA murder took place in Riga, Aizsaules Street 1, around 08:40 on 30 May. This tragic event made many people in Latvia recall the infamous 90s. The murder victim was insolvency administrator Mārtiņš Bunkus, whose name in mass media is often associated with Trasta komercbanka’s liquidation.

State Police Criminal Police Office Chief Andrejs Grišins said that such a murder – a carefully planned ordered hit – is an exception, rather than the rule. The chief of criminal police stressed that the best investigators have been put on this case and that all efforts will be put into uncovering the crime.

Meanwhile several sources who maintained close contact with the victim have said that Bunkus had serious conflicts with another insolvency administrator – Māris Sprūds – and businessman Mihails Uļmans.

After more than half a year authorities have discovered neither the name of the murderer nor the client. It seems that even Bunkus’ relatives are in the dark, which is why they have declared a EUR 500,000 reward for the murderer, client and other people involved in the death of Mārtiņš Bunkus.

Exciting festivities and dirty ticket trading business

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe XXIV Latvian Song and XVI Dance Celebration was attended by approximately half a million people over the course of one week. On top of that, a new record was set for the number of participants of the final concert and sing-along night event.

According to the CEO of the Song and Dance Celebration Eva Juhņēviča, week-long festivities were attended by around half a million people. Another 514,117 people observed festivities through online streaming in Latvia, Britain, USA, Germany and other countries. The live stream organized by LTV was watched by people from 23 countries around the world. LMT platform’s live stream caught the attention of people from 61 countries.

The final concert and the sing-along event were attended by 67,253 people, making it the all-time largest audience of the Song Celebration, says the CEO.

While the festivities were, indeed, exciting, the ticket sale process – was not. Latvia’s National Culture Centre received a lot of complaints about the slow and low-quality ticket same process. The main problems pointed out by buyers and LNCC included the following: slow processing over the internet and in certain ticket booths, possible circumvention of online queues by certain individuals, no ticket reception after processing payments via internet banks, as well as the additional commission by SIA Biļešu Paradīze for online ticket purchases.

On 4 October, LNCC submitted a plea to Riga City Vidzeme Suburb Court in regards to the fee imposed by SIA Biļešu paradise.

His Holiness visiting Latvia

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUEUR 1.16 million, national holiday in Latvia and a happy welcoming crowd – this is how Pope Francis was welcomed in Latvia on 24 September.

While some were excited to participate in the welcoming ceremony, others were asking an uncomfortable question – what was the money used for?

This first time Latvia was visited by the Pope was 9 September 1993, when Pope John Paul II arrived in the country. 2018 marked 25 years since his visit.

A transparent president

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUAfter lengthy discussions and other ‘political circus’ acts – Saeima deputies have finally agreed to elect Latvia’s president in an open vote.

It was decided this year that Latvia’s society needs to know how political parties vote in the Saeima. This is meant to reduce the risk of a ‘vote exchange game’.

Until now the president was the only state official who was elected by the Saeima behind closed doors. However, with amendments to the Constitution, the president will be elected openly starting from 2019.

A fresh start? 13th Saeima elections

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThe 13th Saeima elections, which concluded on 6 October, resulted in the replacement of two-thirds of the parliament’s deputies. Although voters’ activity was at an all-time low (54.6%), voters had hope for change, especially considering that the Union of Greens and Farmers got only eleven seats in the new Saeima.

Seven parties managed to overcome the 5% entry barrier in the Saeima: Harmony (19.8%), KPV LV (14.25%), New Conservative Party (13.59%), Attīstībai/Par (12.04%), National Alliance (11.01%), Union of Greens and Farmers (9.91%) and New Unity (6.69%).

The Central Election Commission has decided that seats in the 13th Saeima would be divided the following way: Harmony – 23 seats, KPV LV and NCP – 16 seats each, Attīstībai/Par and National Alliance – 13 seats each, UGF – 11 seats, and New Unity – 8 Seats.

Like going up a mountain: formation of Latvia’s new government

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThis is the first time when the government formation process in Latvia has taken so long. Deputies, it seems, are unable to find a fitting compromise – some draw red lines and others are driven by their own ambitions. There are also those who oppose certain prime minister candidates and their views.

The first candidate nominated by President Raimonds Vējonis was New Conservative Party’s leader Jānis Bordāns. This candidate immediately announced wanting to nothing to do with UGF and Harmony.

However, after one week of talks several parties decided to exit, criticizing Bordāns’ government declaration plan. With that, the president decided to withdraw his nomination and instead picked a new candidate.

The second prime minister candidate was KPV LV leader Aldis Gobzems. Initially six parties took part in government formation talks – KPV LV, Attīstībai/Par!, New Conservative Party, UGF and New Unity. However, Gobzems then decided to exclude Attīstībai/Par! from all future talks. This decision was then followed up by an offer extended to other parties. NCP was offered the most seats in the government on condition the party would agree to working with UGF. This plan failed, too.

Artis Pabriks from Attīstībai/Par! was considered as a candidate, but he later decided to reject this responsibility, saying that he would not be able to secure support of the majority in the Saeima.

And so the torch was passed to New Unity’s prime minister candidate Krišjānis Kariņš. So far the biggest obstacle for his government plan revolves around Gobzems and his candidacy for the post of Interior Affairs Minister. Kariņš’s plan includes forming the government from five parties – New Unity, NCP, KPV LV, AP and National Alliance. UGF did participate in talks initially, but because of other parties’ objections to this, talks were discontinued.

It is estimated that the earliest news about the new government may come is the beginning of January 2019.

Latvia’s 100th birthday

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU18 November 2018 was widely celebrated by Latvia as the country’s 100th birthday.

As part of festivities there was a military parade, Staro Riga light show, a torch-bearing procession with 25,000 participants, and many other activities.

Although the festive fireworks event turned out very popular, people had mixed feelings – while some were happy and excited, others complained about thick crowds and pushing. Others asked themselves if it was worth spending so much money on the light show Sun’s life.

100 euros and a cocaine syringe

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUGatis Truksnis, the now infamous Mayor of Jurmala, managed to get himself involved in a scandal yet again – this time it involves narcotics. Nevertheless, official charges and the syringe with traces of his DNA found by KNAB did not prevent him from keeping his post – both UGF and Harmony members of Jurmala City Council votes in favour of him remaining the city’s mayor.

The aforementioned syringe was found during a search as part of KNAB’s criminal process regarding the possible illegal financing of political parties.

DNA analysis showed traces of Truksnis’ DNA on the syringe. He was penalized for illegal storage of narcotics, as reported by Nekā personīga.

On 8 October, after the confidence vote, Truksnis explained that the news regarding him storing illegal narcotics was a surprise to him. ‘I was not informed of the penalty or the administrative process,’ he claimed, adding that he also had no knowledge of the criminal case, nor was he interrogated.

Available information states that Truksnis has paid a EUR 100 fine for his crime.

The politician said he paid the fine because he had received a warning from a bailiff.

Rīgas satiksme – a spider’s web of corruption

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUQuestionable dealings in Rīgas satiksme have become one of the biggest corruption scandals in Latvia. As part of these scandals, several influential people in Latvia have been arrested. Certain politicians, on the other hand, have been forced to leave their posts. One such politician is Riga’s Vice-Mayor Andris Ameriks. Chairman of the city council Nils Ušakovs, on the other hand, does not believe it necessary to take responsibility for the company to which he himself had provided enormous grants.

KNAB has commenced a criminal process in relation to three procurements organized by Rīgas satiksme. The criminal process investigates possible bribery of officials and money laundering.

Six suspects have been arrested. Suspects include Aleksandrs Krjačeks, former board chairman of Rīgas satiksme Leons Bemhens, Rīgas satiksme Infrastructure Maintenance and Development Department director Igors Volkinšteins, Škoda Transportation official Vladimirs Kozaks, as well as businessmen Māris Martinsons and Edgars Teterovskis.

Cat’s out of the bag for New Year’s!

Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUAlthough the decision regarding the publication of KGB files on the internet stumbled around a lot this year, the legislative draft was approved by the 12th Saeima in the end.

On 20 December, Latvian National Archive published a portion of KGB files over at https://kgb.arhivi.lv, thereby delivering early Christmas gifts to some people. Although there had already been people in Latvia whose names were mentioned in association with KGB in the past, these files unveiled some curious information about other politicians. Most of them were never mentioned in association with KGB even though the law requires disclosure of such information. Some of them claim to not have cooperated with KGB willingly.

Additionally, a number of residents have turned to courts with intention to prove they had nothing to do with KGB, as confirmed by Court Administration representative Ināra Makārova.


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