Latvian, Estonian security services join forces to tackle potential media sanctions-busting

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The security services of Latvia and Estonia on February 4 mounted a coordinated operation to counter what are believed to be attempts to evade international sanctions. Raids were carried out, including at media companies broadcasting Russian state-backed channels.

"On February 4, 2020, the State Security Service (VDD) carried out court-sanctioned procedural actions on suspicion of violation of international sanctions at several facilities in Riga and its vicinity. In cooperation with the Estonian Security Police (KAPO), procedural activities were also carried out in Estonia," said a statement from VDD on February 5.

The proceedings were conducted in the course of criminal proceedings initiated on 19 December 2019 concerning violation of sanctions imposed by the European Union, it added.

"During the day, several authorized searches were carried out on suspect-related objects in and around Riga, as well as in Tallinn, which obtainined a large amount of documents and media. The information obtained during the investigation gives rise to suspicions that a group of persons has, by prior agreement, provided access to large amounts of financial and economic resources to a person subject to European Union sanctions for acts that undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

Currently, two persons are eligible for the status of suspect and certain non-custodial measures are in place. A number of other persons have a procedural status - a person against whom criminal proceedings are instituted. 

The VDD said it would refrain from further comment while investigations continue.

LSM's Latvian portal reported that one of the companies visited by VDD officers is Baltic Media Alliance, a group which includes the television channel "First Baltic Channel", "First Baltic music channel" and "Baltic media advertising", advertising and media agency "Ren TV Baltic", television channel distributor "Tem LV" and publishing house "Print Media".

It also reported that one of the suspects involved is Oļegs Solodovs, major shareholder and chairman of Baltic Media Alliance, though no source for this information was given.

In total, the Baltic Media Alliance includes 25 television channels in the Baltics. The company produces local television news in Latvia and Estonia. LSM reported last year on how one of its channels had fallen foul of regulators in the United Kingdom, where it has a registered company, even though it does not broadcast there.

Last year LSM also reported on how Latvia's broadcast regulator, the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) decided to suspend the broadcasting of nine Russian television channels because all the channels belong to a holding whose real beneficiary is sanctioned Kremlin insider Yuri Kovalchuk, who is included in a list of people subject to EU sanctions for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

The channels polaced under sanction were part of Baltic Media Alliance's portfolio of Baltic offerings.

However, there is no confirmation yet that the Kovalchuk connection is the reason for the latest raids.



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