State-owned company to take over Ventspils port operations

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To deal with an emergency in connection with Freeport of Ventspils operations, the ruling Latvian coalition has decided to set up a new state-owned joint stock company that would take over the rights, obligations and functions of the Freeport of Ventspils, the LETA news agency reported December 16. 

Transport Minister Tālis Linkaits (New Conservative Party, JKP) told journalists a coalition cooperation meeting on Monday that the coalition partners agreed to put before the government a decree on the establishment of a new joint stock company that would take over the rights, obligations and functions of the Freeport of Ventspils. To legally turn the port's functions over to the new company, respective amendments will be proposed to the Law on Ports and the Law on the Freeport of Ventspils. 

"Our task is to quickly set up a new structure that would be authorized to conclude agreements with tenants in the port's territory and with shipping agents, to ensure the arrival of ships at the port," the transport minister said. 

The new state-owned company might be called Ventas Osta (Venta Port) and its supervisory board would include representatives of four ministries, which would delegate representatives to the company's supervisory board.

It is planned that the members of the new company's supervisory board will be appointed without organizing a competitive tender.

"We have an emergency, and it has to be dealt with. We will appoint board members right away," said Linkaits.

It is not clear yet who might be appointed to the company's management and supervisory boards.

"The search process is under way. This is a matter of a couple of days," Linkaits said, noting that it is not easy to persuade someone to undertake the task of setting up a company from scratch, particularly in emergency conditions. 

The minister said that operations at the port of Ventspils are ongoing but that there is uncertainty and concerns about the future. "It is our duty to provide legal certainty as soon as possible, so that on January 1 all business operations are handed over to the new structure,"  the politician said. 

Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš (New Unity) last Thursday ordered the creation of a task force led by Linkaits to ensure the continued operation of the Freeport of Ventspils and reduce the risk of corruption, thereby reducing the impact of U.S. targeted sanctions on Latvia's transit system and the economy at large.

As previously reported, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) on December 9 imposed sanctions on Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs and a number of entities linked to him, including the Freeport of Ventspils, based on the so-called Magnitsky Act.

OFAC has listed four organizations that it says belong to or are controlled by Lembergs - Ventspils Freeport Administration, Ventspils Development Agency, Business Development Agency, and the Latvian Transport Business Association.


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