Blogger reveals tangle of linked news websites supporting Ventspils mayor

Another bombshell investigation by IT enthusiast blogger Jānis Polis looks into several self-styled news websites linked to Alberts Jodis, an advertising industry figure in Latvia. Many of Jodis' websites, which include a website laying a claim to being a news agency, have one thing in common - they vocally support long-standing Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs, often referred to as a leading 'oligarch', ahead of the municipal elections on June 3.

Publicly available data put Jodis as the owner of the PR agency Alberta Uzņēmumu grupa, an online media network Nacionālā mediju grupaLatvijas Uzņēmējdarbības Attīstības centrs, as well as the pollster Sabiedriskās domas un tirgus izpētes centrs, the BNA news agency and others.

Many of these companies don't show up at the Firmas.lv database however Jodis is shown as taking part in some 17 other companies with suggestive names like The Latvian Center for JournalismFor the Future of Latvia, and others.

A Lembergs-centric network of fake news websites

A tangle of Jodis-linked websites regularly post stories posing as news that praise Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs. Among them are seven 'news portals' and the BNA 'news' agency.

A quick look at the websites' content shows an abundance of headlines such as 'Experts praise Ventspils' growth, slam [opposition candidate] Kristovskis' as well as even more obvious ones like 'Lembergs: they cannot surpass me politically, that's why they're reverting to criminal methods', referring to long-running investigations for bribery, money laundering and abuse of office against the mayor of Ventspils.

As a rule, the articles posing as news stories on the websites have no author, and there's no way to contact the editorial desk. One website does however feature an opinion piece... penned by an employee at Lembergs-linked Neatkarīgā daily.

In addition to the portals, the investigation looks at dozens of Facebook pages set up with what appears to be the express goal of praising Lembergs, whose criminal trial has been running for an incredible nine years with no end in sight.

Polis speculates that it's unlikely the website network is able to make ends meet with revenues from advertising alone, instead suggesting that Jodis uses it for bolstering his credentials as a media magnate, for PR services and creative search engine optimization.

Polis also mentions unnamed sources as saying that Lembergs' wife had ordered this particular campaign.

Lembergs is the driving force of the Greens and Farmers Union political party and has been mayor of Ventspils for two decades as well as having massive business interests in the city which have made him one of the country's richest individuals.

He was described as a national security risk by party colleague Raimonds Vejonis during Vejonis' time as Defense Minister. Vejonis is now president of Latvia. However, that reputation didn't stop Lembergs playing a leading role in meetings to select Maris Kucinskis as a Prime Ministerial candidate.

Lembergs has also constructed a large hill in the town for the recreation of residents in the shape of his favorite hat. He is renowned for his colorful clothes.

Previous one-man investigations by Polis examined Russia-supporting mystery websites and then some more in a second instalment. 

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