RIGA - A commission for negotiating the construction of Latvia's new national library has excluded an Estonian contractor from the tender on ethical grounds, a decision that Merko Ehitus claims was made at the bidding of its Latvian competitors to knock it out of the lucrative project.
Merko Ehitus, the largest construction company in the Baltics, had not decided how to respond to its exclusion by the time The Baltic Times went to press.
A spokesman said the company was "concerned about the methods that certain interest groups attempt to use to exclude the largest Baltic construction company from participation in the competition."
Estonian prosecutors confirmed in a letter to Latvian authorities that in Estonia Merko Ehitus is listed as a suspect in a bribery case that has been launched. Board Chairman Toomas Annus is one of the suspects in the case, prosecutors said.
However, Tonu Toomik, head of Merko's Latvian subsidiary Merks, deflected the criticism, saying the company was acting transparent about the suspicions and "continuously informed the public on the investigation through Tallinn's stock exchange information system."
"If we consider that the company is not guilty, we should not have any considerable objections. We are convinced that the competent law enforcement institutions will understand it sooner or later. Merko Ehitus share capital and liquidity allows us to participate in any tender," Toomik said.
He explained to Baltic News Service that the company was ready to construct the Latvian National Library for 87 million lats (123.8 million euros), or some 40 percent cheaper than the 139 million lats offered by competitors.
"I believe that the approximate price difference of 50 million lats is a sufficient argument" to select Merko, Toomik said.
The Latvian commission concluded that Merko Ehitus did not correspond to the principles provided for in the agreement reached between the Culture Ministry, the New Three Brothers agency and pro-transparency NGO Delna.
New Three Brothers is the agency responsible for building the national library, known as the Castle of Light.
The negotiation process will be continued with two applicants: a construction venture combining RBS Skals, Skonto Buve and Re & Re, and another uniting PBLC, Modus Riga and PB Fasades.
Toomik said a defamation campaign against Merko Ehitus was being waged in order to knock the company out of the tender.
Toomik added that he believed that Delna was being manipulated.
Merks spokesman Arnis Lapins said Merko Ehitus and Merks would decide how to act after receiving an explanation from the agency.
"There are several variants to choose from 's to contest the decision, not to contest it, and so on. We should see the explanation and assess it from the legal point of view," he said.