RIGA - Raitis Kononovs, previously tried for acquisition and sale of a firearm used to murder Vjaceslavs Liscovs, and who is often dubbed Latvia’s ‘king of smuggling,’ says that all the major smuggling schemes are run from Riga, and they are closely connected to high-ranking state officials, reports LETA.
In an interview with Web portal pietiek.com, Kononovs says that the main smuggling route goes through Zilupe. High-ranking Revenue Service official Aigars Augustinovics, who works in Zilupe, was recently apprehended on bribery charges by the Security Police; he was convicted by Rezekne Regional Court but then acquitted in Riga. He was then reinstated, received compensation, and now is in charge of customs in Zilupe, says Kononovs.
According to Kononovs, Augustinovics receives a certain “fee” for all contraband goods, and this money he then distributes further among the persons involved in the scheme.
Asked what the former customs official Vladimirs Vaskevics has to do with smuggling, Kononovs recalls that it was Vaskevics who formed the Customs Criminal Board. “Why is that institution necessary? It is a personal institution of Vaskevics, and it was formed so he, his friends and his team could settle scores with other businessmen. This is how they made money, with the help of the Customs Criminal Board. And they still continue making money that way,” says Kononovs, adding that the Customs Criminal Board controls the entire smuggling process, highlighting that customs officers never seize any contraband goods.
In Latvia, there are a multitude of authorities responsible for battling contraband: customs, Border Guard, Customs Criminal Board, and “another five in Riga,” when just one is needed, says Kononovs. He believes that the large number of authorities that have to battle contraband is the reason why the measures against contraband are so inefficient, and why no one can be held responsible for the poor performance of the authorities, as well as for the large number of bribes offered and accepted by the authorities.
Kononovs goes on to say that it is the Border Guard and the Revenue Service that bring in the largest amounts of contraband freight into Latvia.
This information about smuggling through Zilupe refers only to the smuggling of cigarettes, he says. As for fuel, Kononovs says that none is smuggled via Zilupe, and that it is only by rail, where the Revenue Service covers up the schemes.
The ‘king’ says that all the major smuggling schemes are based in Riga, not at the borders, adding that large amounts of contraband goods also enter Latvia via the Riga Port. He goes on to say that the results of the authorities’ work presented to the public are trifling compared to the amounts of contraband that enter the country without anyone knowing. “There have never been any real results, and there never will be. The entire structure must be changed. The top level. They must not be transferred to other jobs, they must be sacked. That is the only way to make the system work,” says Kononovs, adding that new people must be hired, and their salaries must be increased.
“Say, the salary in customs is 500 lats (714 euros). If I offer an officer 20,000 lats for two minutes of risk, or 50,000 lats, of course he will take the risk,” exclaims Kononovs.