Latest oligarch transcripts reveal media manipulation plots

A new batch of transcripts in the so-called "oligarch conversations" between leading power brokers in Latvia was released by the news weekly Ir June 29.

With calls growing for official comment and condemnation of those involved in the conversations, Ir's latest scoop shows oligarchs Aivars Lembergs and Ainars Slesers hatching plots to manipulate a variety of media sources to their own advantage and working out a covert plot to seize control of the Diena daily newspaper.

They also discuss the hiring and firing of various journalists, demanding the sacking of those asking awkward questions and praising those seen as compliant.

As ever, the conversations are peppered with colorful and obscene language, much of it borrowing liberally from the extensive and rich vocabulary of swear words offered by the Russian language, even though the bulk of the conversations are in Latvian.

Also consistent is the cynicism on display of the oligarchs and their cronies, who evidently regard political power and media coverage as their princely gifts to dispense as they see fit.

As Ir editor Nellija Locmele pointed out on Twitter, the expose provides a degree of belated payback. The magazine was formed by staff dismayed by what was happening at the formerly respected Diena daily, who broke away to set up their own publication. Now, nearly a decade later, it is that publication that is showing the rumours of a secret plot to destroy the newspaper's independence and credibility were all too real.

The sources of the transcripts have not been revealed, though their existence has been suspected for years. Ir, which has a good reputation for journalistic integrity, has staked its reputation on their authenticity.

With the volume of evidence about the behavior of the oligarchs growing to proportions that make it impossible to ignore, demands are growing for figures such as President Raimonds Vejonis and Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis to speak out.

In a response to the ongoing scandal, Lembergs wrote an angry reponse (also published by Ir) saying the transcripts were "a massive propaganda campaign" against him organized by acolytes of George Soros. It is far from the first time that the mayor of Ventspils has ventured the opinion that the billionaire financier has a personal vendetta against him.

Though he does not deny the conversations took place, he says the transcripts released have been "deliberately and misleadingly altered, including by inserting swear words." On social media he started re-tweeting his own tweets accusing the magazine of being politically biased.

In the previous batch of conversations released, serving Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs was included, apparently enjoying the oligarchs' plans to get rid of a troublesome prosecutor general - a potential breach of the line between politics and rule of law. Yet Duklavs continues in his job, apparently with the backing of Kucinskis.

The conversations reportedly took place at an upscale Riga hotel and were covertly recorded.

 

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