Full audit of former PM Kariņš' private flights published

In an audit of the special flights of former Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš (New Unity), the State Audit Office has concluded that at least 221,566 euros were unlawfully spent from the state budget, while at least 323,688 euros from the European Union (EU) Council funds were used uneconomically, the Audit Office (Valsts kontrole, VK) said on Wednesday.

The State Audit Office considers that the use of special flights, even in cases where the country was not in a state of emergency and alternatives to regular commercial flights were available within a reasonable time, constitutes an unlawful disposal of State budget funds, which, according to the estimates of the State Audit Office, represents additional State budget expenditure of at least €221,566.

The audit has also found that additional expenditure of at least €323,688 of the European Council funds has been allowed. The Law On Prevention of Squandering of the Financial Resources and Property of a Public Entity has not been complied with. 

The financial audit also revealed breaches of regulatory enactments related to the organization of public procurement and accounting. 

"The State Audit Office does not question and did not assess in the audit the necessity and importance of foreign visits, nor does it question the need to ensure the functions of the Prime Minister and their continuity. The Audit Office considers the use of special flights as permissible in times of emergency or when there was no other alternative.

"However, the multiple use of the exceptional solution [..] at a time when alternatives are available is not permissible," said Inga Vilka, Member of the Council of the State Audit Office. 

The audit covered the period from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023.

Hundreds of thousands spent where alternatives were available

Between 2021 and 2023, the Prime Minister and his delegation undertook 18 trips on special flights - accounting for 46% of all foreign trips paid for by the state budget during that period. 

The Cabinet of Ministers' Regulation stipulates that travel expenses for the Prime Minister and members of the delegation in all modes of transport are reimbursed according to the actual costs, but not more than the business class rates or equivalent. For foreign missions financed from the State budget, the use of special flights at a time when the country was not in a state of emergency and when time-commensurate alternatives to scheduled flights were available did not comply with the limits on travel expenses laid down in the Cabinet Regulations.

The conduct in these cases can therefore be considered unlawful, resulting in travel costs for special flights which were at least EUR 221,566 higher than they would have been if the expenditure limits laid down in the Cabinet Regulation had been complied with.

In total, the expenditure on special flights paid for from the State budget amounts to €613,830.

The State Audit Office estimates that at least €323,688 were spent uneconomically by choosing special flights for travel to European Council meetings and not considering flight alternatives.

Special flights to the European Council were also used when there was no emergency and when time-commensurate alternatives to scheduled flights were available.

For example, of the 14 trips by the Prime Minister to the European Council using special flights, 11 trips had alternatives with scheduled commercial flights. The total cost of special flights to European Council meetings is €568,331.

PM's Office and State Chancellery involved

The special flights on which the Prime Minister and delegations traveled abroad were organized by the Prime Minister's Office.

State Audit Office has not obtained any evidence that the costs of scheduled commercial flights as alternatives to special flights and their comparison were assessed when making decisions on the choice of special flights. In the opinion of the State Audit Office, the responsibility of all persons involved for the decisions taken to use special flights should be assessed.

In breach of the Public Procurement Law, the State Chancellery procured travel services, including special flights, without proper procurement procedures, without ensuring open and equal competition and creating a risk of wastefulness, says the Audit Office.

A statement from the State Chancellery published in response to the audit, meanwhile, pointed the finger at the Prime Minister's office. 

The Prime Minister's Office has contacted the operators directly to order the special flights, said the Chancellery. The special flights offered by the companies for business purposes were selected and approved by the Prime Minister's Office, and only then the Director of the State Chancellery was informed of the chosen solution. Thus, the information on the chosen mode of transport and its cost was only communicated to the Director of the State Chancellery after the financial commitments had already been made by the Prime Minister's Office, the State Chancellery said.

Jānis Citskovskis, Director of the State Chancellery, has been suspended in connection with Kariņš' flights for the service probationary period.

Additional costs and bonuses

According to the Cabinet of Ministers Regulations, an additional daily allowance may be set for several groups of officials. The Prime Minister and members of the delegation have received the maximum possible additional allowance of 30% of the daily subsistence allowance for all missions, without justifying either the need or the amount of the allowance. 

In 2023, the Prime Minister was paid €1,592 per month for representation expenses, and over three years he was actually paid €46,971.

By abolishing the reimbursement of representation expenses to public officials, it would be possible to save around €350,000 a year from the state budget, the audit has concluded.

Information on the special flights used by the Prime Minister and the Audit Office's calculations are also available on the Audit Office website in the form of the data analysis and visualisation tool "Power BI".

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