Acting Rīga mayor slams damning Audit Office report as "literary composition"

Rīga acting mayor Oļegs Burovs (Honor to Serve Rīga) has slammed the State Audit office report on mismanagement at council-run entities as a "literary composition", amidst a criminal case that the country's anti-corruption office has started against the Rīga Tourism Development Bureau (RTAB)

"This is a long poem of sorts, a literary composition that can be of great use to internet portals. I don't want to say it's bad but one can separate it into pages, sent off and then you'll have a composition TVNET and others can use for weeks. I was expecting it to be less emotional and more specific, mentioning certain things," Burovs told Latvian Radio.

He said that at the same time he does not want to discredit or criticize the operations of state institutions. 

Burovs said that the council will act if it receives information from the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) but did not comment the five-hour May 13 swoop by KNAB on the offices of Rīga City Council during which anti-graft officers appeared to detain Vita Jermoloviča (Honor to Serve Rīga, same as Burovs), the head of RTAB.

It was later reported she spent May 13 in detention. 

Burovs said that the council will evaluate whether to keep running the RTAB and Riga.lv – entities subject to the State Audit Office report – by year-end.

The council opposition has called a meeting on liquidating the Riga.lv website. It will be held May 15. 

According to LTV, the KNAB on May 13 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.

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

The Rīga Tourism Development Bureau was officially registered on October 28th, 2009, with the job of promoting tourism to the Latvian capital.

The founders of the bureau were the Riga City Council, the national airline “airBaltic”, the Latvian Hotel and Restaurant Association (LVRA) and the Association of Latvian Travel Agents and Operators (ALTA).

The Riga City Council owns 70% of RTAB’s shares, while the remaining founders – “airBaltic”, the LVRA and the ALTA – each have a 10% share. According to its website "The main focus... is to encourage tourism in Riga and promote it abroad by means of a special city brand LIVE RIGA."

According to LSM's Latvian language portal, the State Audit Office probe of council-run entities that found around €21 million had been wasted or misappropriated. In the audit, the State Audit Office focused on two bodies in particular: RTAB and the "riga.lv" web portal.

From 2016 to 2018, RTAB received generous funding of EUR 17 million from the Rīga municipality. Most of these funds were spent on the promotion of two trademarks - "LIVE RIGA" and "MEET RIGA", which do not belong to the municipality, nor to the foundation, but to JSC "Air Baltic Corporation" and are currently pledged.

In 2015, RTAB purchased another trademark "RIGA CARD" from a private person for 10 000 euros, but in 2017 the board of directors of the foundation decided to sell it to SIA "Rīgas satiksme", the municipal transport company for 1 euro. Immediately thereafter, the RTAB created and registered a new trademark, "RIGA PASS".

Among several other failings, the audit also concluded that it seemed likely there were fictitious employees in the office. Seven posts were removed as a result of the State Audit Office activities. In addition, when evaluating the RTAB employee list and the amount of remuneration they receive, the audit came to the conclusion that the remuneration exceeds the normal level of municipal employees.

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