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Ceturtdiena 02.04.2020 | Name days: Imgarde, Irmgarde
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Revelation of Riga Central Market's «cigarette mafia» prompts thoughts about penalty changes

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cigarettes, illegal circulation, Riga Central Market, State Police, penaltyReacting to the reveal of a so-called cigarette mafia at Riga Central Market, officials from Interior Affairs Ministry and Justice Ministry will meet on 29 November to discuss possible penalty policy changes against people engaged in circulation of illegal cigarettes.

State Police chief Ints Ķuzis, Saeima’s Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee have stressed, commenting on the recent searches performed at the central market, that in 2013 Latvia performed a massive reform of the Criminal Law, and ‘the term repeatability’ was taken out as a result.

Following this change, administrative violations, in this case sale of illegal cigarettes at the market, cannot lead to criminal liability, even if such violations are uncovered regularly.

According to Ķuzis, as a result of the legislative changes, people, including cigarette traders, regularly and relatedly commit administrative violations, and there is no way to apply criminal liability to them. «For example, we have four people in Daugavpils who have been mentioned in 700 to 800 administrative violation reports. However, not a single fine has been paid so far and those people have no intention of paying ever,» stresses Ķuzis.

The second factor preventing police from successfully fighting illegal traders is the volume of cigarettes for storage outlined in the law to mark the beginning of criminal liability. Currently, for criminal liability to be applied to a person, police have to find 50 000 cigarettes – 2 500 packages or 250 cigarette blocks.

Perpetrators, knowing the legislation in and out, stash small amounts of illegal cigarettes. This means they cannot be criminally prosecuted, adds Ķuzis.

The chief of State Police explains that there had been similar precedents in the past, when changes were applied to the criminal law to reduce different kinds of crimes. This happened with psychoactive substances or ‘spice’.

The interior affairs sector has already taken notice of the need to review the amount of confiscated cigarettes to change the threshold for criminal liability, as well as come up with adequate penalties. «The objective of a penalty is not imitating action – it is to deter others from committing the same violations. If this system does not affect other people, this means the system does not work,» stresses the chief of State Police.

Although the government supported postponing the coming into force of the Administrative Liability Law until 1 July 2020, Ķuzis stresses that «everything associated with cigarettes in this law was copied from the Code of Administrative Violations. This means nothing will change».

Read also: Central market’s «cigarette mafia»: trade turnover estimated around EUR 5.6 million

In his comment, Ķuzis was also critical about the situation when market territory is used by a specific company and Riga City Council, in response to requests from police to sort the situation, asks police to turn to this company.

«The second matter is about the lease of market territory. We have turned to Riga City Council on multiple occasions about this. The response we received from it stated that specific market territory is not theirs, and that police should turn to the company responsible for it. Truth be told, this excuse was created so that there is a platform for illegal activities,» stresses Ķuzis.

Ķuzis also says police does not provide protection for the central market’s cigarette mafia.

Interior Affairs Ministry’s state secretary Dimitrijs Trofimovs told the committee that minister Sandis Ģirģens and Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns have agreed to meet later this week. The meeting will also be attended by state secretaries of both ministries, State Police chief and other officials to search for a solution for changes to the penalty policy against people engaged in circulation of illegal cigarettes.

One possible solution is applying criminal liability to perpetrators. Nevertheless, officials of the ministry have yet to discuss this matter.

Trofimovs explained that in May 2019 Interior Affairs Ministry had pointed towards the lack of efficiency of applied penalties and that it would be better to apply community service instead. Considering that the community service’s administration mechanism requires funds, this proposal was not supported.

Even prior to the proposal voiced in May, it was mentioned in discussions about liberalization of the penalty policy that abolishment of the term for repeatability of violations is necessary and side-effects – unavoidable. ‘We discussed this during meetings of the Criminal Law work group. This is history, this is why we have created an option to put our heads together this Friday and secure results from this meeting,’ said the state secretary.

Last week, State Police performed large-scale searches at Riga Central Market. The operation included colleagues from State Police Counter-Terrorism Unit Omega, Special Operations Battalion, as well as officers from other police departments.

89 searches were performed at the market. As a result, law enforces confiscated 8 210 units of tobacco products and approximately 11 litres of alcoholic beverages not bearing Latvian excise stamps.

Police also confiscated EUR 40 560, GBP 80, 20 dinars, KZT 500, UAH 60 and CNY 50. On top of cash in different currencies, police also confiscated six firearm-like items and 249 units of ammunition, different data storage devices and accounting documents, as well as BMW X3 and different other items of interest for the investigation.

Police intend to investigate the origin of firearm-like items, ammunition and cash money.

Twelve people aged 20 to 58 years have been detained. Four of them have been put under arrest. Two of the detainees have prior criminal history, and one of them was punished for illegal circulation of excise goods 49 times in the past.

State Police chief Ints Ķuzis previously told LTV the police suspect the central role in illegal circulation of illegal excise goods at Riga Central Market is played by the private company that leases part of the market’s territory. According to Ķuzis, this private company has ties to the criminal world and has performed organized work in illegal trade of excise goods. He asked Riga City Council to think if the lease contract with this company is worth maintaining.

According to information from Firmas.lv, Tirdzniecības nams was founded in Latgale Suburb in 1991 and belongs to three private persons – Viktors Baklagins, Zane Vilcāne and Radmila Orlova. The latter is registered as the company’s beneficial owner. In 2018 the company worked with turnover of EUR 300 754 and profits of EUR 80 576. LETA has not managed to contact the company to receive a comment.


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