KNAB says oligarchs behind Diena purchase

  • 2011-10-19
  • From wire reports

AFFRONT: The daily was bought in order to silence criticism of oligarchs before election.

RIGA - The real owners of the Latvian daily Diena, at least at the moment Viesturs Koziols became the formal owner of the newspaper’s controlling interest in the summer of 2010, were Ainars Slesers, Andris Skele and Aivars Lembergs, the portal reports, based on the Corruption Prevention Bureau’s findings during investigation into the so-called “oligarch case,” reports LETA.

Diena was acquired via Rigas Tirdzniecibas Osta (Riga Commercial Port, RTO), which, as the investigators believe, actually belongs, via a number of in-between companies, to Slesers, Skele and Lembergs. The acquisition of Diena was looked at as part of the investigation into properties - including RTO - that actually belong to the three oligarchs.
Corruption Prevention Bureau officers were tapping Slesers’ phone and bugging his meetings with other people at Ridzene Hotel for a lengthy period. As a result, information was obtained that Diena actually belongs to the three said politicians, whereas the official owners were mere managers for the three, via which Diena, as well as other enterprises, were run.
The evidence obtained during the investigation shows that Slesers owns a 36 percent stake in Diena, Skele has 24 percent and Lembergs 20 percent, whereas RTO board chairman and co-owner Ralfs Klavins owns the other 20 percent in the newspaper, writes.

Klavins was convinced to finance the Diena acquisition deal by Slesers, who argued that RTO and Dienas Mediji, a mass medium that had an influence on the political process, should be viewed as a whole, because many decisions regarding RTO would depend on who is appointed premier and transport minister, and who would work in other ministries that participate in the selection of RTO board members.

The future of Diena was discussed at several meetings of the three oligarchs and their representatives, which took place at Skele’s office on Dzirnavu Street, according to the findings. All decisions regarding the newspaper’s management were coordinated with Slesers, Lembergs and Skele. In meetings with Slesers, Koziols said he would make sure that the newspaper works in the interest of the three, and that they would not be criticized by it.
Initially, when the acquisition of Diena was discussed, Skele, Slesers and Lembergs also talked about merging Diena with the newspaper Neatkariga, but Lembergs opposed the idea.

The investigators have also established that Slesers, via other companies, owns shares in RTO, Jaunrigas Attistibas Uznemums, Baltijas Aviacijas Sistemas, Zakusalas Estates and Abi Krasti. These shares are managed by several companies registered abroad, which are officially represented by Koziols, Tormud Stene Johanson and former airBaltic President Bertolt Flick.

Koziols denies any connections with Slesers, and Slesers also denies that he is the actual owner of any of the said companies.