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Latvia’s mafiosi

  • 2013-02-20
  • By Karina Oborune

Parex, Krajbanka, airBaltic, Latvian Railways, the Southern Bridge, Liepajas Metalurgs, the National Library of Latvia, the Free Port of Riga Authority, Jurmala City Council, Riga City Council, Daugavpils City Council – all these national companies and public institutions have been involved in corruption scandals, particularly related to procurement tenders. One common thing in all the corruption scandals is that those who are involved in them have tended to mix their own money with public money.

And this is true on different scales: a corruption scandal can occur on a large scale, such as across the Baltic States as was the case of Vladimirs Antonovs, who led Snoras Bank in Lithuania and Krajbanka in Latvia to bankruptcy. Corruption scandals can also occur on a smaller scale: within the territory of one town, as was the case with Janis Sprinovskis, who was arrested on Feb. 1 by the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) as he was involved in a corruption scandal in Daugavpils City Council, making a bribe of 120,000 euros to favor his private business.
Thus, the rule “steal as much as you can” works in any sector – whether it is the banking sector, as with Antonovs, or the energy sector as in the case of Sprinovskis. The worst of it all is that even if the guilty are arrested (which rarely happens), the taxpayers are punished because, while the few steal millions, the crime affects thousands, or even most living in Latvia.

Sprinovskis planned to become the owner of heating tracks in Daugavpils – this would mean, in other words: “I am the owner and I set the rules and prices.” Therefore, the people in Daugavpils would have to pay the tariffs set by Sprinovskis personally. This very much reflects the Sicilian mafia, or Cosa Nostra, which from the Italian translates as “this thing belongs to us.” Thus, as in a recent case that the Daugavpils’ energy sector monopolist Sprinovsksis was involved in, it shows that there are five common rules for the average Latvian mafiosi.

First, Latvia’s mafiosi is kept in the shadows – they live abroad and are only partially related to companies that are involved in corruption, as in the case of Sprinovskis who was living in Austria, though all his companies where led by his co-manager Gints Sorokins. This definitely reflects the clan hierarchy of the Sicilian mafia: Sprinovskis was boss, Sorokins was his adviser, and the underbosses were Daugavpils City Council Deputy Chair Vjaceslavs Sirjakovs and head of municipal heating company Daugavpils Siltumtikli Maris Laudins.

Second, the Latvian mafiosi, as the Russians may say, has a “roof.” For Sprinovskis this “roof” was allegedly ex-Prime Minister Andris Skele.

Third, the Latvian mafiosi has not only a “roof,” but also co-players, and the more co-players it has, the greater  the play will occur.

Fourth, Latvia’s mafiosi has good knowledge of the sectors in which it is making bribes. In the case of Sprinovskis this was the energy sector, where he has been working since the 1990s.

Fifth, for the Latvian Mafiosi, it does not matter where the stealing occurs: either stealing funds from the state, or European Structural Funds. The scheme is the same - just the “sponsor” is changing. Sprinovskis has stolen from the state, and even got a chance to get funds from European Structural Funds, which were used dishonestly.
KNAB in 2012 had a good reputation in society, who evaluated its activity mostly as honest (42.1 percent - very honest and honest; 28.7 percent - neutral evaluation). Nevertheless, the cases of Sprinovskis, and others much older, are only part of all bribes that happen and have been uncovered.

Now KNAB is making an accent on public information campaigns; however, it should not underestimate that in the Corruption Perception’s Index, Latvia is at a critical point – it is the most corrupt country compared with the other Baltic States and European countries. Such sectors as banking, municipality work and the judicial system need to be more closely monitored.