in 2020, Belarus was overwhelmed by a wave of protests following the unlawful presidential election of dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Hundreds of thousands of residents took to the streets, thus demanding Lukashenko step down. He responded to this with violence against protesters and harassment of opposition figures. The European Union imposed various sanctions on the regime.
Several Belarusian companies began looking for opportunities to move to neighboring countries. They were also invited by Latvia. Jānis Vitenbergs, then-economics minister, said of the situation in September 2020: "It's a win-win deal. Interest is from both sides. In Belarus, in the current political situation, large companies are looking for new homes for themselves. And Latvia has proven itself to be a safe country, both on the economic side and on the health side, during the Covid-19 crisis, and the interest is large enough."
"At that point, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland showed support in order to protect both companies and political activists, including representatives of the media, from repression, and at that point, a marketing campaign was also launched,” Iveta Strupkāja, acting Director of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia, told LTV's De Facto.
The LIAA provided various consultations to Belarusian companies and talked about possibilities for starting activities in Latvia. To help businesses relocate, a special working group was also set up with authorities in home affairs and other areas to coordinate the granting of temporary residence permits, and help open accounts with banks.
“If we compare with neighboring countries, we may have had these procedures longer and more scrupulous, which is probably the reason why a large proportion of the companies that expressed interest and said they had followed this campaign also disappeared during the process. At the end of 2021, in fact, they were only 16 companies that had registered their activities in Latvia,” Strupkāja said of the campaign results.
One of these 16 firms is Nordwoc Ltd, which is owned by Belarusian businessman Igor Medved. The firm is registered on Audēju Street in Old Rīga, where it shares a letter box with dozens more firms. There's no sign the company is working anymore because there's no way to call it, and the website hasn't been working for a few weeks either. On the other hand, it is written in the Enterprise Register that all company shares have been arrested by the State Security Service.
The State Security Service applies an arrest to capital holdings extremely rarely. In the case of Nordwoc, it was done in July. No comment on this is being made by the State Security Service.
However, information available to Latvian Television shows that the security guards suspect Igor Medved, owner of Nordwoc, of violating sanctions imposed by the European Union and illegal movement of goods of strategic significance across the border of Latvia, which has been committed in large amounts and within a group after prior agreement. These are severe articles of the Criminal Law, with the second providing up to 10 years in prison and confiscation of property. That's why the arrest of the shares is also appropriate.
The Nordwoc officials have been absent for months. LTV managed to contact a former board member Uģis Grigorjevs, who disagreed with the interview on the record but did not deny that the company was bringing goods to Belarus.
Nordwoc was also on the list of exporters to Belarus originally published by the Central Statistical Bureau. Grigorjevs said the firm offered engineering solutions and traded air monitoring equipment.
Grigorjevs said he did not know anything about VDD criminal proceedings, and he left the company in March for other reasons. After him, the board member was briefly Artemijs Faļilejevs, but LTV failed to contact him.
LIAA: aid to Nordwoc was small
The Latvian Investment and Development Agency says it has had no cooperation with Nordwoc Ltd for about a year. Norwdoc had been granted a tax credit of more than EUR 20 thousand in the start-up aid scheme, but the firm did not comply with the law and therefore did not receive the aid at the end. Meanwhile, last November, the country paid for Nordwoc's opportunity to advertise at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona for less than eight thousand euros.
"There, physically, the company does not see this money in its account, yet so-called de minimis State aid is accounted for. In this case, yes, it can be said that this support was provided. We have also repeatedly advised the company on various export activities, where there has been, it is true, a relatively small amount of this de minimis aid that has been provided to the company,” said LIAA representative Strupkāja.
LIAA does not have any information on the criminal proceedings initiated by the VVD.
The owner of Nordwoc, Medved, also has other firms in the European Union. He is a manager and owner of Theseus Lab, a company registered in Prague more than 10 years ago. Its website lists many Belarusian companies, including Belarusian research institutes and universities, as the main customers. All kinds of telecommunications, meteorological equipment, including laboratory equipment, are sold. Whether this firm is involved in criminal proceedings is unknown, because Medved himself could not be contacted by LTV.
Other companies coming from Belarus are continuing their work.
LIAA said that of the Belarusian companies involved in the campaign in 2020, approximately 10 continue to work actively in Latvia. The best known is Pulsar Optics, which has an optical equipment plant in Daugavpils. The company has condemned Russia's war against Ukraine and stressed that it does not sell goods in Russia or Belarus because of the invasion.