The "Lāčplēsis" organization (or to give it its full name the Latvijas Valsts aizsardzības fonda biedrības «Lāčplēsis» / Latvian state defense fund society "Lāčplēsis") was founded in 1996 and is a private initiative that hands out awards twice a year to people it believes have contributed to national security, bestowing them with the grand-sounding title of "cavalier" or "knight".
It lists its aims as "To maximize the security of Latvia's national independence from external and internal threats. To work for Latvia's defense and security institutions, national economy, cultural development, and promotion of patriotic upbringing of the Latvian population, especially youth."
In the past, several politicians have expressed reservations about the organization's name and visual symbols, which might give the impression it has official status. The name is also uncomfortably suggestive of the Order of Lāčplēsis, the highest Latvian military honor, awarded exclusively to those who originally fought for Latvia's freedom.
As De Facto showed, the organization stages award ceremonies in which recipients are presented with insignia following the reading of a solemn-type proclamation. Like state decorations, the awards take the form of a cross medal and a lapel badge, though the design of both is markedly inferior to actual state awards. Awards to the "cavaliers" are designated gold, silver or bronze - again mirroring the first, second and third class designations of official state awards.
You can see a recent award ceremony in Ogre below which saw the local mayor picking up his badges.
The organization claims to have handed out nearly 1,400 such awards.
Using a concealed camera, reporters recorded a discussion with the head of the organization, Jānis Ivars Kasparsons, in which a man said he wanted the award to be presented to an associate. No questions as to why he might be eligible followed, but the price of 400 euros was quickly offered as the likely cost of a matter that could be conducted in days.
However, in subsequent comments to De Facto reporter Olga Dragileva, Kasparsons denied the awards could simply be bought by anyone wandering in off the street and that those who could contribute to costs sometimes did so, but others did not.
Latvijas valsts aizsardzības fonds "Lāčplēsis" ar Goda zīmēm par ieguldījumu valsts labā apbalvo ZZS politiķus pic.twitter.com/uDpYJ3J0ag— ZZS (@ZZS_) September 30, 2014
Various local and national politicians are listed as recipients of such awards, with some of the best-known being Saeima deputies Romans Naudinš of the National Alliance, Aldis Adamovičs of New Unity and long-time Agriculture Minister Jānis Dūklavs of the Greens and Farmers Union.
De Facto tracked down a range of politicians who had received awards from the organization, but all denied that they had been bought and seemed to know little about the organization that had "honored" them.
The organization does occasionally seem able to attract some public money. As an example, in 2014 it is listed as receiving 560 euros from Jelgava city council and back in 2007 it was recommended for a grant of 1250 lati from the Defense Ministry.