Pressure builds on agriculture minister to quit

Agriculture Minister Janis Dūklavs came under renewed pressure to quit July 27 over his role in the so-called "oligarch conversations" scandal.

Dūklavs, who featured in covertly recorded conversations involving Latvia's cadre of influential oligarchs (as previously reported by LSM) has come under scrutiny both for the toadying manner in which he seemed to encourage and enjoy the conspiracy and, more importantly, for his possible covert ownership of land plots in the vicinity of Riga port that he was offering to sell to the oligarchs to help them enable their plans.

The news weekly Ir on July 27 claimed it had traced the land plots registered in other names but with links to Dūklavs that suggested these were the same plots he discussed selling during the oligarch conversations.

In response, Dūklavs denied that he had covert ownership of the land plots .

"My property is not hidden by anyone at all, because I do not have such property," he told the magazine. Asked if he had tried to use his political contacts to help sell the port land, the minister reiterated that he would not answer such questions.

Dūklavs has so far been supported by his party colleague within the Greens and Farmers' Alliance (ZZS), Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, to the extent that Kucinskis even nominated Dūklavs as stand-in prime minister while he was out of the country, a move that itself caused raised eyebrows.

However, support within the party for long-serving Dūklavs (he has been Agriculture Minister since 2009) may be weakening with ZZS Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola asked on the Rita Panorama morning news show if it was ethically acceptable for Duklavs to continue in office.

"You would have to ask that to Mr Dūklavs himself as it is his full responsibility," said Reizniece-Ozola, adding that it was important to await the results of a full investigation. 

Among the many quotable lines during the oligarch conversations, Duklavs' cameo stands out. Transcripts suggest he did indeed offer the sale of land in the Riga port area, and in some detail. The land is registered in the name of families known to him, he says in the transcripts, but that he can easily effect a sale and seems well informed about why the registered owners want to sell and how much they are prepared to accept. 

However, so far the recordings, the existence of which was rumored for years, have only been released in transcript form after Ir obtained them from undisclosed sources. The magazine has staked its reputation on their authenticity.

Members of ZZS and others including President Raimonds Vejonis (a former ZZS minister and colleague of Dūklavs)  have called for the release of the original, unedited recordings.

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