Chamber of Commerce and Investment Agency at loggerheads over fraud allegations

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The Latvian Investment and Development Agency (LIAA) said it suspects business trips organized by the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LTRK) may have involved fraudulent use of European Union funds, Latvijas Avīze daily reported on September 25, citing information from LIAA.

"I am surprised about the large number of people involved in defrauding EU money and the fact that this has been organized by LTRK," said LIAA director Andris Ozols, adding that the alleged fraud had been quite simple - LTRK had been organizing scam business trips or trade missions to foreign countries, 80% co-funded by the EU. 

LTRK board chairman Jānis Endziņš said that it is "an unpleasant surprise" and that he had known nothing about it.

In order to increase exports of products and services with high added value, in early 2016, LIAA launched a program for promoting international competitiveness, and business representatives were able to receive grants for participation in international fairs, conferences, seminars and trade mission, including establishing individual contacts to a country of choice.

The criminal procedure has been launched on 32 trade missions organized by LTRK with the total funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDEF) at the amount of €626,030. The case has been investigated by the Economic Crimes Department of the State Police for over a year.

Endziņš told the LETA newswire that LTRK categorically rejects that it actively and knowingly participated in any fraud. "The financing, probably, has been defrauded by one of the chamber's former cooperation partners and a number of dishonest business representatives. We are cooperating with investigators, and we are also interested to find out the truth," said Endziņš.

At the same time, he voiced surprise that this issue has been raised in public by LIAA and Latvijas Avīze right now, even though an investigation has been going on for a year and a half. "I can only make a guess that it is a human reaction to LTRK's remarks that it is time for Ozols to change his job," said Endziņš. He said that the chamber might consider turning to court in order to protect the organization's reputation.

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