Anti-corruption cops swoop on Rīga Tourism Development Bureau

Latvia's dedicated anti-corruption force, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) said May 13 it is probing the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau (RTAB) for a range of serious offences including forgery, fraud and wasting public money.

"On April 5, the Bureau commenced criminal proceedings against officials of the Riga City Council's Riga Tourism Development Bureau for wasting budget funds, forgery of documents and the use of false documents and fraud. KNAB worked closely with the State Audit Office to obtain information. At the same time, criminal proceedings are being conducted today in Germany, Sweden and Spain."

Characterizing the case as an "active investigation", KNAB provided few other details, though it said it will "provide more detailed information as soon as possible without compromising the interests of the investigation."

Riga Tourism Development Bureau was officially registered on October 28th, 2009, with the job of promoting tourism to the Latvian capital.

The founders of the bureau were the Riga City Council, the national airline “airBaltic”, the Latvian Hotel and Restaurant Association (LVRA) and the Association of Latvian Travel Agents and Operators (ALTA).

The Riga City Council owns 70% of RTAB’s shares, while the remaining founders – “airBaltic”, the LVRA and the ALTA – each have a 10% share. According to its website "The main focus... is to encourage tourism in Riga and promote it abroad by means of a special city brand LIVE RIGA."

According to LSM's Latvian language portal, the move is linked to a State Audit Office (VK) probe of council-run entities that found around 21 million euros had been wasted or misappropriated. In the audit, the State Audit Office focused on two bodies in particular: RTAB and the "riga.lv" web portal.

From 2016 to 2018, RTAB received generous funding of EUR 17 million from the Rīga municipality. Most of these funds were spent on the promotion of two trademarks - "LIVE RIGA" and "MEET RIGA", which do not belong to the municipality, nor to the foundation, but to JSC "Air Baltic Corporation" and are currently pledged.

In 2015, RTAB purchased another trademark "RIGA CARD" from a private person for 10 000 euros, but in 2017 the board of directors of the foundation decided to sell it to SIA "Rīgas satiksme", the municipal transport company for 1 euro. Immediately thereafter, the RTAB created and registered a new trademark, "RIGA PASS".

Among several other failings, the audit also concluded that it seemed likely there were fictitious employees in the office. Seven posts were removed as a result of the State Audit Office activities. In addition, when evaluating the RTAB employee list and the amount of remuneration they receive, the audit came to the conclusion that the remuneration exceeds the normal level of municipal employees.

It's not the first time RTAB has found itself in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Even its initial launch campaign back in 2009 was marked by an unfortunate error that resulted in the slogan: "Rīga city: easy to go, hard to live!" 

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