De Facto

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De Facto

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"Ķīna pirmajā vietā"?

Further questions about visit of Latvian MPs to China

Latvian Television's De Facto investigative broadcast on January 21 posed further questions concerning the lengthy visit of a delegation of Latvian politicians and businesspeople to China.

As previously reported by LSM, the departure of a group of Saeima deputies for an 11-day all-expenses paid visit, approved by neither the Saeima Presidium nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is proving to be controversial.

Saeima deputy and businessman Ainārs Šlesers became the head of the group of deputies for the promotion of cooperation with the Chinese parliament at the end of last September, shortly after the previous head of the group, Armands Krauze (ZZS), became Minister of Agriculture.

Just before the election of Šlesers as head of the group, all eight members of the Latvija pirmajā vietā (Latvia in first place, LPV) faction led by him joined the group.

Five of them are on the China jaunt. Members of Šlesers' party dominate the eight-member delegation but are joined by two representatives of the National Alliance (NA) – deputy group leader Aleksandrs Kiršteins and Edmunds Teirumnieks – plus Viktorija Pleškāne from the For Stability! party. All the Saeima members on their oriental freebie are members of opposition parties at present.

Šlesers himself boasted during the first days of the excursion that the 11-day trip was fully paid for by the Chinese government. He posted a picture showing the delegation at a business forum in the city of Ningbo saying "Latvian businessmen had very productive talks with Chinese businesses".

Both the Chinese embassy and Šlesers were involved in organizing the visit of politicians and businessmen. The Confederation of Latvian Employers (LDDK) surveyed its members at the Chinese embassy's request already in November, but little interest in the visit was expressed, therefore LDDK did not pursue the matter.

On the other hand, the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LTRK), which organized the 17-person delegation, at first told De Facto that LTRK President Aigars Rostovskis was approached about the visit by Šlesers, but later clarified that Rostovskis was previously approached about it by the Chinese ambassador at the end of October.

China's offer expressed via Šlesers did not seem acceptable to several members of the cooperation group in the Saeima.

For example, Andrejs Judins (New Unity) replied to Šlesers that he would not go to China while the war in Ukraine continues, and there was no further communication. Other deputies of the position were also disapproving.

"I am not against maintaining contacts and perhaps going to countries that are not our allies, as diplomatic channels must be maintained. But they must be properly organized, we must jointly discuss the agenda, what goals we should achieve, it should go normally through the meeting of this cooperation group, it should go through the presidium, also consulting with the security services and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This would be the right way," Ervins Labanovskis (Progressives) explained his refusal to participate in the visit.

Member of the group Līga Kļaviņa (ZZS) was also critical: "I also asked Mr. Šlesers how he managed to avoid all these possible risks in terms of security issues or the arrangement of the procedure, to which I unfortunately did not get a convincing answer. And in any case, the most risky thing in all this seems to me to be a clear conflict of interest, because, in my opinion, there is it is quite unacceptable for a Latvian parliamentarian to visit the country with money financed by another country."

Most likely, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) will now assess whether the restrictions set by the Law on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest for officials to receive gifts have been observed on this trip.

Apart from the geopolitical risks, further questions arise about the ethics of some of the MPs, including Šlesers himself, over potential conflicts of interest.

The delegation to China includes close members of Ainars Šlesers' family. His son and fellow Saeima deputy Ričards Šlesers is along for the ride, as is another son, Edvards Šlesers representing the company Riga Port, making it quite the family outing.

Riga Port board member Miķelis Lapše is also participating in the trip to China. The intermediate co-owners of Riga Port are currently representatives of the Šlesers family: Edvards, as well as Ainars' wife Inese and mother-in-law Vēsma.

Ivars Sormulis, the chairman of the board of the Riga Port group company "Baltijas transita serviss" (Baltic transit service), who is a co-owner of the company, and therefore a partner of the Šlesers family, is also in China enjoying transit services supplied by the Chinese government.

The LPV party, which is promoting its party members' trip to China on social networks, republished a Chinese television story about the visitors from Latvia, but curiously cut nine seconds out of the two-minute long video – precisely those in which Edvards Šlesers was visible.

Šlesers wrote to LTV this week saying that he would be ready to answer questions after his return from China. He and colleagues are spending this weekend on Hainan Island in the South China Sea, known for its tropical beaches, as part of their fact-finding and door-opening efforts.

On January 22 Ainars Šlesers was again sharing photos from the trip online, with one showing him exchanging gifts with an unnamed woman he described only as a representative of Hainan province. He was at pains to point out that he had bought the gifts himself and offered a complaint about the range of gifts available at the Latvian parliament, saying: "We exchanged gifts with the leadership of Hainan Province! (By the way, I bought gifts from Latvia myself, because you see, there weren't even any books about Latvia in the Saeima that could be brought to China. I gave the Chinese side five paintings with the silhouette of Riga, books about Latvia, and chocolate cakes as a gift." 

He continued the sweet treat theme with another post showing an ice-cream dispensing robot with which he appeared to be hugely impressed.

"What is your favorite ice cream?" he asks a man familiar with the ice-cream robot. Having ascertained that the answer is "Chocolate", the Latvian parliamentarian then proceeds to eagerly demand a demonstration, urging: "Show me how you will buy ice cream!"

Several seconds of frantic button-pressing on a cellphone ensue – time which would usually be spent saying "Hello" to a human vendor and simply asking for a chocolate ice cream – until eventually, the robotized dispenser is forthcoming with the sweet treat from a hatch.

At the conclusion of the operation, Šlesers wonders whether it might be possible to pay for one ice cream while stealing another one. However, he is informed that this is not an option.


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