Tax service freezes bank accounts of Latvijas Naftas Tranzīts

Latvia's tax authority, the State Revenue Service, has frozen the assets of Latvijas naftas tranzīts (LNT), a company controlled by Swiss lawyer Rudolf Meroni, the head of the company's council. The freeze also concerns about €8 million in the company's account, reported LTV's De Facto May 12.

The tax service is conducting an audit in the company and in early April set a number of restrictions upon the company, De Facto reported.

Latvijas naftas tranzīts' first brushes with the tax service started two years ago after tax inspectors asked it to provide annual reports. Last year, board members at LNT were slapped with small fines of €280 for failing to do so, but these were contested at court. The court reduced the fine of board member Jānis Hāze to €200, but has he appealed again.

LNT has not submitted its annual reports for three years by now. That's why the Revenue Service started the process of freezing the company. This, however, has been put on pause as the tax service is now auditing the company, according to De Facto

The company has turned to Finance Minister Jānis Reirs and State Revenue Service’s director general Ieva Jaunzeme over the matter and has even ventured to claim that the tax service has turned against the company.

The State Revenue Service did not comment the ongoing audit to De Facto, saying it's against the law for them to refer to specific companies. Meanwhile the Finance Ministry told LTV that the company's application has been sent to experts for evaluation.

The latest annual report by LNT, an important part in a complex chain of companies, is dated 2015 and says the company's chief goal is holding the shares of Ventspils nafta in the interest of the shareholders. But in 2015 LNT sold these shares to the international company Vitol for €80 million.

Meroni then claimed the money would be invested but did not reveal where. 

According to unofficial sources, the Revenue Service is interested, among other things, into how this money was spent. 

De Facto earlier investigated that these funds, or part of it, have been used to buy shares of the LNT parent company, the huge oil transit enterprise Ventbunkers. The deal may have been carried out like this, according to De Facto: Meroni's LNT lent the money it received by selling shares to the London Industry company – Meroni is its director – to buy the Ventbunkers shares of Olafs Berķis, Igors Skoks and Genādijs Ševcovs.

This allowed a company linked to Meroni to obtain control over a further 3/7ths of the Ventbunkers company.

The Swiss lawyer has been tasked by the Latvian state to hold the assets thought to be under Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs' control – this includes Ventsbunkers shares – while the latter is on trial for a number of white-collar crimes. Meroni has promised that the assets placed under his control would be kept safe for the duration of Lembergs' court proceedings.

But one can only guess as to what has happened with the assets, because LNT has not submitted annual reports for the period in which this rather complicated deal took place.

Meroni meanwhile has remained silent for months. LNT board member Aivars Gobiņš asked De Facto to submit questions over the tax service audit but the show has not received any reply.

Last year the State Police started a criminal case over possible embezzlement at the companies linked to Meroni, De Facto reported. 

Most recently, a company linked to Meroni went to court against the Latvian government because it ruled against the potential acquisition of the Radio SWH radio station.

Pointedly, in February when De Facto reported the news over the cabinet decision to forbid the sale of Radio SWH, it also reported that it has an email saying that in 2015 someone asked Meroni for directions over appointing the head of Baltic News Network, a media company reporting news on the Baltic states. 

The Baltic News Network on May 12 posted a story titled "Latvijas Naftas Tranzīts suspects State Revenue Service of illegally leaking confidential information". 

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