Seven suspected in huge Daugavpils heating bribery scandal

The Daugavpils heating utility Daugavpils siltumtīkli, owned and operated by the local government authority, has irregularities with its emissions quotas worth up to €850,000, prompting the Corruption Prevention and Enforcement Bureau (KNAB) to lodge criminal cases against seven persons with the General Prosecutor’s Office, Latvian Radio (LR) reported Wednesday.

The case was opened at KNAB back in January of 2013, when the state anti-corruption agency began looking into possible bribes exchanged over the course of high-level procurements by the local heating utility.

Original suspicions over a €120,000 bribe soon led to follow-ups on several alleged cases of official graft during the procurement process totaling many times more than at first thought.

According to sources obtained by LR, two bribe-givers managed to embezzle the funds by taking advantage of officials’ poor understanding of how the emissions-quota mechanisms are supposed to be applied. By securing broker’s fees for redundant or unnecessary services from the responsible city government officials, Jānis Sprinovsks and Gints Sorokins used the situation to pocket significant amounts of money through the ‘trading’ of emissions quotas within the regional heating utility system, investigators believe.

Investigator Anda Rumjanceva told LR “it’s simply taking advantage of trust – they positioned themselves as knowledgeable professionals in the field. Whereas the heating utility reps had barely any information from the state about how to go about handling the emissions-quota trading rules,” she said.

The ring of bribery allegedly drew in two other city officials – Daugavpils siltumtīkls board member Māris Laudiņs and Daugavpils vice-mayor Vjačeslavs Širjakovs.

Unraveling the scheme from there revealed other persons that police say were involved as mediators – allegedly Daugavpils businessmen Antons Oglodkovs and Sergejs Karnauhovs each pocketed about €30,000 to keep any other claimants from applying for the quotas. According to KNAB reports they also invoiced for superfluous VAT taxes, causing the utility losses worth a further €58,000.

Given the extent of the embezzlement scheme in Daugavpils, KNAB chairman Jaroslavs Streļčenoks also vowed to look into other local government heating utility services in Latvia:

“We get lots of tips and complaints about this sector not just from Latgale, but other provinces as well. We’re focused on the fact that the tariffs are obviously very high, resident complaints are substantiated. When we spot a dubious transaction we’ll investigate further,” he said.

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