Rīga tourism officials have cost public at least €300,000, anti-graft office says

Illegal activities of the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau’s (RTAB) officials have resulted in losses of at least €300,000 according to preliminary estimates, representatives of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) told the press May 16.

KNAB representatives confirmed that a criminal probe was started against several RTAB officials on April 5 over misspending budget funds, document counterfeiting and use of counterfeit documents, as well as fraud.

On May 13, KNAB carried out investigative actions, which included more than ten searches at various locations, as well as seizure of evidence. The searches were conducted in Latvia and Germany, Sweden and Spain, seizing a significant amount of evidence, data carriers, as well as excise goods without excise stamps. Several dozen people have been questioned as part of the criminal investigation.

Photos posted to social media by KNAB showed cases of champagne and other expensive drinks found during the searches.

Two persons, officially featuring as suspects in the case, were briefly detained as part of the probe. As a measure of security, they have been banned from holding particular positions, leaving the country and approaching certain persons. The persons in question are RTAB board chairperson Vita Jermoloviča and Inguna Priedīte, head of the RTAB office.

The number of suspects in the case might still increase, KNAB representatives said but did not comment whether RTAB board member Maksims Tolstojs (Harmony), who was supposed to return to his job from a business trip May 14, might also become a suspect.

Evidence obtained during the investigation suggests that the RTAB officials might have misspent large amounts of budget funds by concluding fictitious agreements, paying private expenses, counterfeiting documents and using them, hiring fictitious employees, as well as swindling large amounts of budget funds. According to preliminary estimates, damage caused by these illegal activities is at least €300,000, but this figure still has to be updated.

KNAB warned that the investigation of these suspected crimes will be a time-consuming process, as some of them have been traced to foreign countries, which means that KNAB will have to send several European Investigation Orders (EIO) and legal assistance requests.

Also, the forensic tests necessary to probe the case are expected to take months to complete, KNAB said.

On May 13 anti-graft officers carried out searches at the office of suspended Rīga mayor Nils Ušakovs (Harmony), as well as the premises of the council’s foreign affairs administration and councilor Maksims Tolstojs’ (Harmony) office – Tolstojs is also a board member at the tourism entity.

This was part of a criminal probe started against RTAB officials for embezzlement of budget funds, counterfeiting of documents and use of counterfeit documents, as well as fraud

The KNAB also said that criminal proceedings are being conducted in Germany, Sweden and Spain.

The searches coincided with the release of a damning State Audit office report that found around €21 million of municipal funds had been wasted or misappropriated within three years. 

In the audit, the State Audit Office focused on two bodies in particular: the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau and the "riga.lv" web portal.

The Rīga City Council owns 70% of the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau.

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