Journalists were on Rīga transport payroll, anti-graft squad investigating

The multiple ongoing scandals at the Rīgas satiksme (Riga transport) municipal company increased by yet another order of magnitude April 28 with LTV's De Facto investigative show revealing the identities of more "consulatants" paid large sums of money by the company for services of dubious value - with the suspicion that the payments were more about ensuring political support than anything to do with running a transport system more efficiently.

Among the list of "Rīgas satiksme" consultants are both Riga City Council deputies (creating an obvious potential conflict of interest) and other people related to the "Harmony" party of suspended mayor Nils Ušakovs, De Facto said.

Another consultant was journalist Konstantīns Gaņins, who has provided advice to Rīgas satiksme since 2010, reported De Facto. But at the same time he worked for Latvian Radio 4, the public media Russian-language radio station, under another surname as Konstantīns Kazakovs. 

He has received around 3,000 euros per month for at least the last three years (37,000 euros per year) - an amount that dwarfs the ordinary salaries of Latvian Radio journalists and raises questions about editorial independence and journalistic ethics.

Kazakovs told De Facto there was nothing suspicious about his work, which was supporting the work of Rīgas satiksmes' marketing department: “For example, I helped to organize presentations and press conferences, participated in organizing a schoolchildren's drawing contest, helped to promote projects related to the efficiency of public relations, and so on.”

Nor was Kazakovs the only journalist on the payroll. The company also worked with Dmitrijs Ličkovskis, a friend of Nils Ušakovs and editor-in-chief of Patron magazine, and First Baltic Channel TV producer Irena Poltoraka, who is also a journalist with Patron. Both Polotraka and Ličkovskis received more than €2,000 per month from Rīgas satiksme for their consultancy work.

According to De Facto's infomration, of several hundred consultancy contracts involving 60 private individuals concluded by Rīgas satiksme in recent years, nearly half - 28 people - are directly or indirectly related to the Harmony political party, Nils Ušakovs or Riga City Council and have received almost 600,000 euros from the publicly-funded company for working as consultants.

On April 29, the head of Latvia's anti-corruption bureau said there was reasonable suspicion that offences had been committed by at least some of those hired as consultants and that investigations into their activities were ongoing.

Jēkabs Straume, Head of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), was asked in an interview by Latvian Television how many such cases there might be and his slightly cryptic reply in Latvian - "Padsmit" - suggests a number between 11 and 19.

Investigators "are not sitting on their hands" and are cooperating with colleagues at European agencies because it is suspected that use of European money is involved in the corruption cases involving Rīgas satiksme, Straume added. 

 

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