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Week in Lithuania: CB denies Swedbank’s Syria links, PM Skvernelis to change some ministers

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Swedbank sign is seen on the building in Vilnius, Lithuania

Last week, PM Saulius Skvernelis revealed that the Government mulls taxing property and polluting cars, Lithuanian Railways said it will keep contract with Latvia’s Sigmen, Court disqualifies itself from Paleckis case.

PM: government mulls new taxes on property, polluting cars

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Thursday, July 18, that the government is considering broadening the property tax base and taxing polluting cars. The International Monetary Fund and the European Commission have called on Lithuania for years to broaden its property tax base. Last year, the government moved to tax second, third and further residential properties owned by one individual at a rate of 0.3 per cent, but the Seimas did not back the proposal.

PM: Several ministers to be replaced

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said this week that more than one ministers will be replaced in the Cabinet’s reshuffle, which follows the return of powers to the new president, Gitanas Nausėda. That means that the parliament will have to vote not only on Skvernelis’ reappointment as prime minister, but also on the government program. The additional vote will be needed because more than half of members of the Skvernelis government will have changed since it received the mandate in 2016.

Central Bank has no info on Swedbank’s Syria links

The central Bank of Lithuania (CB) said this week it has no information to confirm claims by Swedish media about the links of the country’s financial group Swedbank and its bank in Lithuania with Syria’s chemical weapons program. Sweden’s Dagens Industri daily reported on Monday, July 15, that based on the information it has, Sweden’s Swedbank is linked to a transaction used to fund Syria’s chemical weapons program. According to the vz.lt news website, the transaction involved Swedbank clients in Lithuania who entered into transactions with one or more clients of FBME, a bank with non-transparent reputation.

Lithuanian company plans big investment in Riga

M.M.M. Projektai, a real estate company owned by Lithuanian businessman Nerijus Numavičius, plans to invest 200 million euros in Riga over the next few years, vz.lt news website reported this week. The company has bought two land lots for investment, and a business centre of around 50,000 square meters might be built in one of them, and some 100,000 square meters of housing in another.

President nominates Skvernelis for reappointment as PM

President Gitanas Nausėda nominated on Thursday, July 18, Saulius Skvernelis for reappointment as prime minister. Skvernelis returned his Cabinet’s powers to Nausėda after he was sworn in as president on July 12. The procedure is envisaged in the Constitution. Nausėda said that the political experience Skvernelis has gained as prime minister and, previously, as interior minister will help him overcome challenges.

 LNG terminal charge to be cut in December

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Wednesday, July 17, that the Energy Ministry’s row with Achemos Grupė over plans to transfer Klaipėdos Nafta’s LNG business to a separate company will not prevent the government from taking decisions that are necessary for cutting the LNG terminal-related burden for consumers starting in December.

Mission Siberia departed for Kazakhstan

A team of 16 participants of the annual Mission Siberia departed for Kazakhstan after a ceremony at Vilnius Railway Station on Wednesday, July 17. The participants of the ten-day expedition will tend to graves of deportees and political prisoners buried in Kazakhstan. The team had intended to go to Russia, but just as in 2018, they had to change their plans after the country refused to issue visas for a second successive year.

UK startup Velocity Black setting up technology centre

UK-based startup Velocity Black announced this week it was setting up its first technology cenre in Vilnius, which will create new jobs and partner with local universities. The Vilnius team will be developing new, AI-based technologies for Velocity, which is currently one of the world’s fastest-growing venture-backed tech companies.

LG will not terminate contract with Latvia’s Sigmen

Lithuania’s state-run railway company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways, LG) said this week it will not terminate its contract with Latvia’s Sigmen, one of the region’s largest Russia gauge rails suppliers, despite Lithuanian media’s recent reports on its links to the circles of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs subject to the US sanctions. LG says it will continue working with the company after receiving conclusions of the Lithuanian government commission assessing transactions of strategic companies.

Court disqualifies itself from Paleckis case

Vilnius Regional Court announced this week its decision to disqualify itself from the case of Algirdas Paleckis, former leader of the Socialist People’s Front who is suspected of spying for Russia, as he is suspected of crimes against the court’s judges. Neither the court, nor prosecutors provide any details on the judge-related circumstances Paleckis is suspected of. The State Security Department has found that the suspect allegedly had contact with other persons who also cooperated with Russian intelligence organizations and provided them with sensitive information.

President wants to improve relations with Belarus

President Gitanas Nausėda said this week he’s ready to improve relations with Belarus but vows to preserve the strict position on blocking imports of power produced by the Astravyets nuclear power plant. He said he has not decided yet if dialogue with Belarus could take place at the highest-level. In the president’s words, Lithuania is still considering who to invite from the Belarusian government to the reburial of the remains of participants of the 1863-1864 uprising, planned in Vilnius in the fall.

President invites Polish counterpart to uprising participants’ reburial

President Gitanas Nausėda on Tuesday, July 16, invited his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda to the reburial of the remains of participants of the XIX uprising against the Russian Empire, scheduled in Vilnius in the fall. Nausėda paid his first state visit to Poland that day.

Seimas will not consider LRT ad ban bill

Lithuanian lawmakers decided on Tuesday, July 16, not to consider a proposal to ban all advertising on the national radio and television (LRT) and its news website. In total 32 lawmakers voted for the inclusion of the amendment to the Law on the National Radio and Television, drafted by three members of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, to the parliament agenda, 16 were against and 26 abstained.


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Linkaits: banks once again service Ventspils Freeport terminals

The situation with Ventspils Freeport is gradually becoming more relaxed. On top of that, banks once again service port terminals there, as Latvian Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits affirmed in a conversation with journalists on Thursday, 23 January.

Aivars Lembergs picks ex-prime minister’s freelance advisor Grudulis as his lawyer for debates

The suspended Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs, who is also accused of committing serious crimes and is under US sanctions, has picked once the prime minister of Latvia Māris Kučinskis’ freelance advisor Māris Grudulis as his lawyer for debates in court, as was announced in court on Thursday, 23 January.

What is Lithuanian President’s main reason to skip Jerusalem Holocaust forum?

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has unexpectedly flip-flopped on where and how to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. First, he said he will attend the commemoration in Jerusalem, but then changed his mind to pay homage to the Jewish victims in Auschwitz, in Poland. The reason? Well, there is no clear official reason for that – President’s Office did not provide one.

Audit: Rail Baltica slowed by poor risk management and slow progress with municipalities

Delays and cost increase of Rail Baltica project is heavily affected by no risk management and no strategy, as well as slow progress in cooperation with municipalities and passive alienation of properties, Latvian State Audit concluded in its latest report.

China stops public transport in two cities over coronavirus

In China, a new strain of coronavirus has claimed the lives of 17 people. To keep it form spreading, local authorities have stopped the public transport to and from the cities of Wuhan and Huanggang.

BNN investigation | Rebenoks and Krieķis may have plans to return to Olainfarm board despite ties to serious crimes

Ex-Olainfarm officials Mārtiņš Krieķis and Pāvels Rebenoks, the latter also serving as Latvian Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro’s advisor, may return to the company’s board to, possibly, continue walking «well-travelled path» paved with non-transparent deals, according to information available to BNN.

In Estonia, forgetting to register child’s name can lead to municipality choosing it

Estonian law obliges parents to register the name of their child in a month’s time after giving birth. In the unlikely case of them being late, the law opens right to a local municipality to choose it.

Lukashenko: Belarus needs to diversify its oil imports, introducing Baltic supplies

As Minsk and Moscow are in talks to solve a dispute over the continuation of oil imports from Russia, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said that Russian supplies could be cut to 30-40% of Belarus’ total imports.

Minister does not exclude possibility of number of municipalities in Latvia increasing

The Administrative Territorial Reform offers reducing the number of municipalities to 39 in Latvia. Still, it is possible there may be one or two more, said Latvian Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce in an interview to LTV programme Rīta Panorāma on Thursday, 23 January.

Thirteen people die from influenza in Latvia

Three people died from influenza in Latvia last week, increasing the number of victims to 13 for this year’s flu season, according to monitoring data of acute upper respiratory tract infections published by Disease Prevention and Control Centre.

Lithuania tries to halt haulage firm exodus to Poland with new tax

Lithuania is introducing a new «exit tax» to keep road haulage firms from relocating to other European Union member states. The firms say that other ways of moving business abroad will be used.

Corruption fighters: corruption perception indexes decline in Latvia in 2019

Latvia’s positions had worsened slightly in 2019 in global anti-corruption coalition Transparency International composed Corruption Perception Index.

UK parliament passes draft Brexit law

In London, the draft law on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has been finally passed by the Houses of Parliament after years of inability of British legislators to decide on their preferred way out of the bloc.

Harmony prepared to approve Riga’s 2020 budget after Burovs’ dismissal

Political party Harmony will not approve Riga municipality’s 2020 budget while Oļegs Burovs remains in charge of the city council, as reported by the be faction’s head Maksims Tolstojs.

British landlords support cards showing rights of EU guest workers after Brexit

After Brexit, which is due to start with February, European Union citizens will have to prove their settled status when looking for flats. Private landlords has supported a change in the Brexit law for EU citizens to have physical cards to prove it.

Survey: 86% believe roads should be among state budget priorities in Latvia

A total of 86% Latvian residents believe maintenance and repair work of roads should be among state budget priorities, according to results of a survey by SKDS.

Vitenbergs: every investment is vital for Latvia’s national economy

Investments are the foundation for a free market economy and every investment is vital for Latvia’s national economy, said chairman of Saeima’s Economic, Agricultural, Environmental and Regional Policy Committee Jānis Vitenbergs.

Kaljulaid in Antarctica: We enable Estonians to work online from anywhere

Visiting Antarctica, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid intends to do her daily work demonstrating the geographical flexibility working online can give. The head of state also pointed to the alarming speed of climate change visible in the far south.

Producer price level in Latvia’s industry declines 1.1% in December

In December 2019 the level of producer prices in the Latvian industry has reduced by 0.4 %. The level of prices of products sold on the domestic market has dropped by 0.2 %, and prices of exported products by – 0.6 %.

Moneyval report: Latvia has generally completed issued recommendations

Moneyval Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Measures of the Council of Europe has upgraded its report regarding Latvia completing the 11 recommendations it was previously presented, according to published information.

Russian energy advantage in Baltics should be stopped, says Energy Commissioner

Baltic power producers are subjected to European Union’s emissions tax, while Russian and Belarusian producers are not despite all competing on the Baltic market. Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson believes that this should be solved.

Employee reduction at Latvian Railway started at the end of 2019

Latvian Railway had commenced reassessment of its functions and operations in the second half of 2019. This is why the reduction of the number of employees commenced gradually at the end of 2019, as reported by LDz representative Ella Pētermane.

Those with voting rights are slow to sign referendum for municipal election regulations

Between 16 and 21 January, a total of 1 137 people with voting rights cast their votes in favour of the referendum intended to introduce changes to regulations that govern snap municipal elections, as reported by Latvian Central Election Commission representative Laura Zaharova.

Video: Thunberg and Trump clash over climate in Davos

«Our emissions have to stop» versus «import our oil and natural gas» – these were the conflicting calls from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and U.S. President Donald Trump in the World Economic Forum.

Kariņš: the minister should not ease requirements for State Police chief candidates to appoint someone specific

Easing requirements for candidates wishing to become chief of State Police is unacceptable, and such behaviour creates suspicions that something is wrong with the process, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in an interview to LTV programme Rīta Panorāma on Wednesday, 22 January.


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