German political consultant hired by Harmony also had big Rīga tourism contract

A leading German marketing and public relations specialist - which has in the past worked on election campaigns for Chancellor Angela Merkel - was paid large sums by Rīga Tourism Development Bureau (RTAB) while also advising the Harmony political party which runs Rīga city council. reported LTV's De Facto May 19.

Spin doctors at Lutz Meyer & Company advised Harmony on its Saeima election strategy and devised the posters used in the campaign which tried to give Harmony a more presentable, classy image. 

The company says it is expert in "Campaign development and control, PR, crisis communication, political dialogues."

"We run campaigns. Together with our clients, we develop coherent and creative content. We control the entire implementation process until we have achieved our client’s goal," the corporate website boasts. It has partner offices in Berlin, Stockholm, Washington and Madrid.

However, De Facto revealed that at the same time as working on the Harmony campaign, the company also had a large contract with RTAB. The basic contract was for 50,000 euros but according to De Facto's information, the total amount that Meyer & Company received from the Riga city council majority-owned bureau is around 300,000 euros.

The broadcast suggested that logically, Rīga and the RTAB-owned "Live Riga" brand should have been promoted in Germany, Sweden and Spain as it is in these countries that Meyer & Company has its branches and partners. However, there is no obvious evidence that such campaigns have taken place in these countries.

But De Facto did say it had reliable information that the offices of Meyer-affiliated companies in Sweden, Germany and Spain were raided in moves co-ordinated with the Latvian Corruption Combating and Prevention Bureau (KNAB).

Given recent revelations about lavish spending and close links of RTAB and the Harmony political party of suspended Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs, the question raised by De Facto is whether RTAB was in fact paying to promote the Harmony political party and not the city of Rīga. That would mean taxpayers' money was indirectly financing a political campaign, which, as in most democratic countries, is illegal in Latvia.

The suspended mayor of Riga, Nils Ušakovs (currently running for election to the European parliament), was responsible for his party's Saeima pre-election campaign, while his wife, Iveta Strautina-Ušakova was the head of RTAB, at least formally. Neither would respond to De Facto's questions on the matter.

On May 13 anti-graft officers carried out searches at the office of suspended Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs, as well as the premises of the council’s foreign affairs administration and councillor Maksims Tolstojs’ office – Tolstojs is also a board member at the tourism entity.

This was part of a criminal probe started against RTAB officials for embezzlement of budget funds, counterfeiting of documents and use of counterfeit documents, as well as fraud

KNAB also said that criminal proceedings are being conducted in Germany, Sweden and Spain.

The searches coincided with the release of a damning State Audit office report that found around €21 million of municipal funds had been wasted or misappropriated within three years. 

In the audit, the State Audit Office focused on two bodies in particular: the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau and the "riga.lv" web portal.

The Rīga City Council owns 70% of the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau.

Lutz Meyer and Company also claims expertise in "crisis communication", which may prove useful given the scandals engulfing RTAB and various other council-owned entities.

Suspended Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs took to social media Monday afternoon accusing not only LTV but also rival station TV3  of "crude lies" and a "carefully coordinated campaign against Harmony" for both reporting the Lutz Meyer and Company story. He said the German consultancy had helped design election posters and had been fully paid by the political party for that work.

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