Latvian lawyers are likely to reach a financial agreement next week with the insurers of the Mona Lisa, a cruise ship that ran aground off the coast of Latvia on May 4. At the center of the dispute is whether the value-added tax applies to the bill for Latvia's rescue operations, which cost the nation 135,000 lats (192,000 euros). Latvian military services rescued 984 stranded passengers and brought them to Riga before dislodging the ship from a sand bank in the Irbe Strait, 18 kilometers off the Latvian coast.
The president of the Latvian Olympic Committee, Aldons Vrublevskis, plans to send at least 50 athletes to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The games begin in a month, and 43 athletes have qualified to represent Latvia. This includes the women's basketball team, which will mark the first time Latvia has participated in a Summer Olympic team sport since regaining independence. Competitors in the javelin throw have yet to be decided. According to Vrublevskis, the more athletes Latvia sends to the Olympics, the more funding and auxiliary staff will be made available.
Latvia and Russia have signed and ratified the border treaty, and Latvian Transport Minister Ainars Slesers has taken steps to improve relations with his Russian counterpart. There are signs that remaining shipping issues will be resolved shortly. Slesers and the Russian transport minister have developed a good relationship, which Slesers says can be beneficial to Latvia.
The introduction of visa-free travel between Latvia and the United States could enter its final phase this October. According to Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins, the remaining issue is the U.S. visa rejection rate for Latvia, which must be fewer than ten percent before the U.S. will permit visa-free entry. Unofficial estimates put the rate near 6 percent, but the official statistics won't be announced until October. The upcoming U.S. presidential election will not affect the negotiations.
The head of Riga's criminal police, Ints Kuzis, is operating under the assumption that professional contract killers are at large in Latvia, but he was hesitant to elaborate in a Baltic News Service interview, citing the ongoing investigation. Kuzis said that these contract killers, some of whom have been detained, hold an initial meeting and later act individually. According to public reports, Latvian authorities have managed to prosecute several contract killers in recent years. In January, the Riga Regional Court sentenced Movsar Isayev, a Russian citizen from Chechnya, to 16 years in jail for the attempted murder of a businessman and his family. The latest alleged contract killings occurred last winter when two business people, Ella Ivanova and Aigars Lusis, were shot and killed in Garkalne, near Riga. Five people, including Ivanova's husband, have been detained in connection with the murder.