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Fourth killing in four years

  • 2000-12-21
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Latvia has experienced its fourth gangster-style murder, a la Al Capone, related to the distillery industry. Early morning Dec. 15, Dainis Peimanis, board chairman of the distillery company Jaunpagasts Plus, stepped into his car and headed toward Riga. On the way, his car was overtaken by another car at Strazde, on the Ventspils-Riga highway, which forced Peimanis to stop. A man jumped out of the car in front of Peimanis', ran up, pulled out a gun and shot Peimanis in the head.

So it was reported by Ilze Malika, deputy head of the Talsi district criminal police, who refused to say whether Peimanis had been alone in his car or not. There are witnesses, however, who saw the assault, though no detailed information will be released until they have been questioned.

Valdis Pumpurs, chief of the national criminal police, said at a press conference the police are following two theories - Peimanis was murdered because of competition in the distillery industry or, he was connected with earlier crimes such as the murder of businessman Arnis Skesteris and the attempted murder of businessman Maris Miller, both men connected to the spirits business.

Jaunpagasts Plus intended to open a factory in Riga for the purpose of producing bioethanol. Peimanis had managed to convince the state to be the guarantor of a big loan for the project.

Inguna Kupca, director of financial resources at the Ministry of Finance, said Parliament had approved a state guarantee on an 8.9 million lats ($14.35 million) loan for Jaunpagasts Plus.

"It was a loan for producing bioethanol in a factory in Riga," Kupca said.

Bioethanol is a liquid biofuel, produced mainly as a fuel for vehicles. There are two major variations in this field - biodiesel and bio-ethanol. Bioethanol can be used directly as a fuel in special alcohol engines with a higher compression ratio using 95 percent alcohol or, it can be added to gasoline in dehydrated form of 100 percent alcohol, and it can be used indirectly as feed stock for ethyl-tertiary-butyl-ether.

Bioethanol is made from starch plants such as corn or sugar beet, and from cellulose plants. Still, this technology is in its preliminary stages. There are several obvious benefits from using bioethanol: it's made from renewable resources, it helps for a cleaner environment due to cleaner combustion and lessens dependency on crude oil.

Still, there are rumors that Jaunpagasts Plus never really intended to produce any bioethanol, and that the original plan was to produce regular spirits instead.

At Jaunpagasts Plus silence prevails. The company refuses to make any comments on the killing of its board chairman or of its future plans.

Being a prominent representative of the alcoholic beverage industry might prove to be lethal. Over the last four years, four such representatives have been killed. In 1996 Valery Machugin, alcoholic beverage distributor and Mono's vice president, was killed. In 1997 it was Haralds Veteris, distillery Veta's president, and last year spirits businessman Arnis Skesteris suffered the same fate.

Raimonds Locmelis, spokesman for Latvijas Balzams distillery, where Peimanis had worked as president from 1995 to 1998, said Peimanis resigned of his own free will in 1998, and that the distiller would like to express its deepest condolences to Peimanis' relatives.

"We feel bad about what has happened," Locmelis said.

Still, Locmelis refused to comment on the dangers involved with working in the distillery industry in Latvia, since nobody has been charged with any of the murders mentioned above.

The parliamentary budget and finances committee chairwoman, Aija Poca, told the Baltic News Service that Peimanis' death shouldn't be a reason for delaying the construction of the bioethanol plant.

She noted, however, that the state guarantee provided for Jaunpagasts Plus under this year's national budget was valid for 2000, but it was unlikely that all formalities will be settled by the end of the year, and therefore the project will have to be reviewed again next year, and a new decision made on whether to extend the state guarantee in the 2001 state budget.