As reported earlier, the opposition had questioned the validity and reasons for Kariņš using private jets for his foreign visits. Kariņš responded by saying that the Latvian government should consider buying a jet for its needs. State Audit Office has also been asked to examine the issue.
Before the November 18 holidays, De Facto asked the State Chancellery to provide accurate information on the purpose of flights, dates, and events attended by the former Prime Minister and the cost of each flight. The answer came nearly a week later. It turned out that Kariņš had flown on state budget-paid private flights 32 times because most were return flights.
Krišjānis Kariņš' private flights
|May 7–8, 2021
|October 5–6, 2021
|November 10, 2021
|December 1, 2021
|January 19, 2022
|February 10, 2022
|February 17-18, 2022
|March 10–11, 2022
|March 14–15, 2022
|June 2, 2022
|June 14, 2022
|August 30, 2022
|September 4, 2022
|October 6–7, 2022
|March 17, 2023
|June 1, 2023
|June 20, 2023
|July 17-18, 2023
The total sum of the flights amounted to EUR 613,830 from the state budget.
The State Chancellery also added an explanation of why special flights had to be used to attend several visits such as a sudden call from former German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Emmanuel Macron, the tense security situation shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, the closure of the host country's airport for commercial flights because of a summit, or a series of visits after which the prime minister would otherwise not be able to return to Rīga to accommodate high-profile foreign visitors there.
However, in some cases the State Chancellery did not provide any justification for the use of the special flights and in others, it was not convincing, according to De Facto.
For example, they have been used when returning from informal European Councils on Friday night, although it would be far cheaper to stay overnight in a hotel and fly a commercial flight on Saturday. It is also not always clear whether Kariņš did not have the opportunity to fly to the event the night before, for example, using connecting flights if there are no direct flights or they are at a disadvantage. It is also uncertain whether rescheduling of the Prime Minister's calendar was considered prior to the decision to order a special flight.
De Facto's interview with the now-Foreign Minister Karins took place even before he received information from the State Chancellery, so he could not be questioned about specific flights. However, some conclusions could be drawn from the entries on Kariņš' public agenda, which show that many events flown to on special flights were not unexpected.
Kariņš repeatedly pointed out that he did not know or think about the cost of the flights because he focused on the content of the visits.
“One mistake that I could see is that at the time I thought it was the content that mattered most - to get there, to talk, to convince. How [we will] get anti-aircraft protection in Latvia, how we will get more troops in Latvia, how will we get more support for Ukraine so that, God forbid, that war does not go further,“ Kariņš said.
“I didn't think enough about whether every step... And I didn't sit there and really didn't count, I don't know the exact cost to this day because then I'd have to count,“ said Kariņš.
The current prime minister, Evika Siliņa (New Unity), was once Kariņš' parliamentary secretary. She is not too critical of her predecessor's decisions.
“It may be hard to see why the head of government has chosen to do this or that but explaining helps. Tell us what decisions have been taken, maybe they are important for Latvia, and as a result, the costs for Latvia are adequate,“ Siliņa said. “I have also asked Mr. Kariņš himself to try again to tell why this approach has taken place. But in terms of wrongdoing... I don't see anything being violated by the law right now. I think so far there is no indication that the law has been violated and I should claim any responsibility from Mr Karins. But the need for clarification is clear.“
The opposition is not going to let go of the issue. Although the first request to the Prime Minister was rejected by the Saeima, the United List has submitted a new one asking more detailed questions about Kariņš flights than before, and the faction has also turned to the state audit.
Meanwhile, on Monday morning, President of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs told Latvian Television's morning newscast that Kariņš could also have flown commercial flights in some cases.
According to the President, the possibility of using special flights should be available: “During Covid-19 and due to various unscheduled visits, such an opportunity to use special or private flights should be. But has this not translated into a practice where both proportionality and more advantageous options are no longer assessed?“
Rinkēvičs also criticized Kariņš and the State Chancellery's communication on the issue. According to him, the right step is for the State Audit Office to assess Kariņš' flights.
“We will then understand whether in all cases the usefulness and proportionality were respected and whether in all cases it was legally correct,” Rinkēvičs said.