Rush hour murder probably a contract killing, says minister

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The murder of insolvency administrator and attorney Martins Bunkus in Riga May 30 most probably was a contract killing, but other theories cannot be ruled out, Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis (Unity) told the LETA newswire.

The minister confirmed that Bunkus was the victim shot dead in his car on Wednesday morning and said the manner of the hit suggested it was a contract killing related to the victim's professional activity.

In an interview with the public Latvian Radio later on Wednesday, the interior minister said that the State Police would throw all possible resources into the investigation.

"We must do everything to solve [this crime], and I am sure that it will be done," Kozlovskis said.

He noted that Bunkus had had a vast professional activity both as a lawyer and an insolvency administrator therefore most probably it had been a contract killing but other motives should not be excluded.

As previously reported, a man driving a white Range Rover was shot dead at 8:40 a.m. May 30 near the main Riga military cemetery. The car swerved off the road and crashed into the cemetery's fence. There was a bullet hole in the front window on the driver's side.

Police said that a tarp-covered pickup truck was seen at the scene of the crime and called on any possible witnesses to come forward. Not far from the scene of the slaying another vehicle was filmed by passers-by in a fireball, with some suggesting it could have been torched by the assassin to destroy evidence.

Bunkus was one of the legal aides hired by Armands Rasa, the liquidator of Trasta Komercbanka, to help with the liquidation process. Rasa declined any comments, and did Bunkus' Law Office. Trasta was a bank that had its licence pulled following a series of massive money-laundering scandals, but the liquidation process of the bank proved just as complex and controversial.

In addition Bunkus had canceled two auctions worth totaling EUR 400,000 shortly before he was murdered, in another contentious case.

According to the announcements published in the official newspaper Latvijas Vestnesis, Bunkus as the insolvency administrator of Rego Trade had planned to auction off EUR 400,000 worth of rights of claim against two former border members of the company on May 30 but had canceled the auctions on May 29.

The Rego Trade food wholesaler was declared insolvent in spring 2008. Bunkus as the insolvency administrator established that the former board members - Mihails Ulmans, Aleksandrs Budovskis and Dans Vapne - had embezzled the company's assets prior to insolvency and turned to the court to recover the money.

In 2012 the Latvian Supreme Court satisfied the insolvency administrator's claim and ruled that Ulmans had to pay back to the company LVL 265,626 (EUR 377,952). Rego Trade still has the rights of claim against Budovskis for EUR 192,055 and against Vapne for EUR 204,145, and Bunkus planned to sell those rights of claim at the auctions that he cancelled at the last moment shortly before he was killed.

The whistleblowing website publishing various accounts of a conflict between Bunkus and Ulmans. The latter had complained that the State Revenue Service, which was by far the largest of Rego Trade creditors, was represented at the creditor meetings by subordinates of Kaspars Bunkus, the head of the Insolvency Department at the State Revenue Service and the brother of Martins Bunkus.

Ulmans claimed that due to this conflict of interest the representatives of the State Revenue Service at the creditor meetings had been protecting the interests of the insolvency administrator rather than the Latvian state. However, the State Revenue Service rejected the allegations as untrue and insisted that everything had been done in full compliance with the law.

In a link with Latvia's non-resident banking sector, Ulmans is also chairman of the board at LPB, formerly known as Latvijas Pasta Bank. In 2016 it was fined €305,000 for failing to stop massive payments through its accounts in connection with a billion-euro 2012-2013 Moldovan fraud according to a report by independent financial investigators Kroll.

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