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More charges brought in 'digital TV' case

As part of the criminal probe into the so-called 'digital TV' case, charges have also been brought against the Transport Ministry's former state secretary Nils Freivalds and Lauris Dripe, the former head of the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LVRTC), the LETA newswire reported March 23.

Prosecutor Monvids Zelcs confirmed to LETA, without giving the suspects' names, that a total of nine persons are currently facing criminal charges in connection with the probe in the digital TV case.

LETA said it already had information that the persons charged in the digital TV case include former prime minister Andris Skele, former transport minister Ainars Slesers, former Tet CEO Juris Gulbis, as well as Freivalds and Dripe, who used to be a freelance adviser to then transport minister Slesers.

Nothing Personal, an investigative news program of TV3 channel, reported earlier that criminal charges in this case have also been brought against former Lattelecom (now Tet) managers Janis Ligers, Toms Abele and Toms Meisitis, as well as former Hannu Digital head Gintars Kavacis.

Prosecutor Zelcs said that each suspect had their specific role in the fraud scheme. The prosecutor did not reveal the amount of illegal proceeds, but information obtained by LETA suggests that these were around EUR 3 million.

As reported, Latvia's former politicians Andris Skele and Ainars Slesers are facing criminal charges that have been brought against them as part of a criminal probe into the so-called digital TV case, LETA learned.

Aiga Eiduka, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, told LETA on Monday that one of the persons charged in this case is being suspected of large-scale fraud and money-laundering. Information obtained by LETA suggests that this person is former prime minister Andris Skele.

Former transport minister Slesers, meanwhile, has been charged with large-scale fraud.

No measures of security have been imposed on the two persons.

Skele released a statement to the press on Monday saying that he considers the charges against him baseless. In Skele's opinion, the prosecution's interpretation of events around the public tender that was held in 2008 to introduce digital terrestrial television in Latvia was biased.

"I had no reason to think that I am suspected of criminal offenses in connection with these events, because in the last 12 years, leading up to March this year, I was never summoned to testify in this criminal probe," Skele said.

Skele promised to do everything to make sure that his case is investigated swiftly and impartially. He also promised to provide law enforcement authorities with all information at his disposal.

Skele also urged the authorities to forward his case to court as soon as possible.

The ex-premier said that for the sake of the investigation's integrity he would not give more comments for now.

Slesers also released a statement shortly before the news of his indictment broke. In his statement, Slesers said he was seriously considering a political comeback. He also said he was greatly surprises that he is being called to account for his role as the then transport minister in the 2008 digital TV tender which was won by Lattelecom. He also stressed that Lattelecom has never been under the Transport Ministry's supervision and that the telecommunications company was supervised by the Economics Ministry.

As reported, Juris Gulbis, the former CEO of Tet telecommunications group, and four other persons have been charged in the aforementioned digital TV case.

In November 2020, TV3's investigative news program Neka Personiga (Nothing Personal) reported that the Prosecutor's Office had charged Gulbis and four other persons of possible participation in fraud in the introduction of digital television, estimating the damage caused to the company in the amount of EUR 7,585,533.

According to the case, the successor of Kempmayer, Hannu Digital, was fraudulently involved in the digital television project and Gulbis misused the trust of the owners and council of Lattelecom (now Tet).

According to the TV3 report, the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting was planned 20 years ago when Skele was Latvia's prime minister. Investigators probing the project believe that it was planned as a fraudulent deal centered around Kempmayer Media Limited, a London-registered shell corporation with owners hidden in offshores. The scam came to light in 2003 and 20 persons were charged in the criminal probe.

The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce also found that Kempmayer had been established as a shell corporation and ordered the company to pay Latvia more than EUR 5 million. Businessman Andrejs Ekis, who had organized the composition of Kempmayer shareholders, paid the fine with money lent by Skele, TV3 reported.

In October 2020, the Supreme Court overruled the conviction of several defendants that were tried in the so-called digital television case.

On hearing the cassation appeal against the verdict delivered last year by Riga Regional Court, the Supreme Court overruled the conviction of Andrejs Ekis, Jurgis Liepnieks and other defendants in the case but upheld the part of the ruling on acquittals.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court Senate pointed out several aspects which the appeals court had failed to asses. The overruled part of the case will therefore be sent back to Riga Regional Court for retrial.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Baiba Kataja said that as it provided a new description of the alleged crimes and substantially changed the amount of scammed funds, the appeals court (Riga Regional Court) did not provide evidence on which it had based its conclusions, nor did it explain the reasons for dismissing other evidence.

"Since the court has to take a new decision on the size of the defrauded funds, a decision on the issue of money laundering will be needed as well," said Kataja.

As reported, on June 20, 2018, Riga Regional Court delivered its verdict in the so-called digital television case, overruling the conviction of former National Theater director Ojars Rubenis but gave fines and real jail sentences to other defendants in the case.

Apart from Rubenis, the judges of the appeals court also acquitted Didzis Jonovs, a former state trustee at the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LVRTC), business advisor Valdis Purvinskis and LVRTC state trustee Adrians Boldans. The court of the first instance had slapped an EUR 18,000 fine on each of them.

Jurgis Liepnieks, a former advisor to Latvian ex-premier Andris Skele, was fined with EUR 67,080 and Andrejs Ekis, the former head of LNT commercial television, was given a EUR 40,850 fine.

The judges also handed down a real jail sentence of nine months and a fine of EUR 26,230 to Guntars Spunde, the former director general of the Latvian State Digital Radio and Television Center (DLRTC). Lawyer Janis Loze received a jail sentence of one year and nine months and was fined with EUR 33,540.

Andrejs Zabeckis, a former board member of Kempmayer Media Latvia was sentenced to two years and nine months in jail, and Janis Zips, also a former board member of Kempmayer Media Latvia, received a jail sentence of one year and nine months and a fine of EUR 22,790. Janis Svarpsons, who also used to sit on the Kempmayer Media Latvia management board, was given two years and nine months behind bars and a fine of EUR 22,790.

The sentences given by the court of first instance were reduced on appeal for all defendants based on the provision on hearing a case within a reasonable time.

Court action in the digital TV case started back in November 2007.

Proceedings in the digital TV case were launched over a deal concluded in 2002 between DLRTC and the UK-registered Kempmayer Media Ltd to ensure Latvia’s transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting is several phases. Under the contract, Latvia had committed to paying 53.5 million US dollars for the first phase of the project in which digital terrestrial television had to be provided in Riga and its region. On Aug. 31, 2006, an international court of arbitration in Stockholm invalidated the contract.

The Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) on Sept. 1, 2003, opened a criminal case in relation to the digital TV project at the request of the then transport minister Roberts Zile. The criminal case was opened for intentionally criminal actions and neglect on part of the state officials and was later expanded to include charges of large-scale fraud and money laundering as well as conspiracy.

As many as 20 individuals were initially charged in the digital TV case, including former LVRTC director general Maris Pauders, who is currently facing proceedings to submit him to compulsory medical care because of his health issues. Former LVRTC trustee Inara Rudaka who was also charged in the case died in 2013, so the number of defendants in the case has decreased to 18 by now.

None of the defendants in the digital TV case pleaded guilty to the charges laid against them.

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