Further questions about award of major Covid test contract

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The commercial director of the company SIA “Brief”, with which the state has concluded a major contract for the supply of Covid-19 antigen self-tests, is involved in a criminal case concerning embezzlement and document forgery, reported Latvian Television's De Facto investigative show December 12.

As previously reported by LSM, the 4-million-euro contract for the supply of Covid antigen self-tests had already hit problems. Initially the contract was awarded to a little known company called SIA "Ekspress laboratorija", but it failed to meet a five-day delivery deadline and the contract was switched to second-placed SIA "Brief" instead. 

Now that company has also said it was unable to meet the deadline. A release from the Ministry of Defense, which is responsible for this particular tender, said:

"Today, on December 10, the National Defense and Logistics Procurement Center has received information from SIA “Brief” that the delivery of antigen self-test cargo will be delayed, and it will be delivered on December 14.

"According to the agreement concluded between the State Defense and Logistics Procurement Center and SIA “Brief”, the cargo with a total of four million antigen self-tests had to be delivered no later than December 10. Under the terms of the agreement, the National Defense and Logistics Procurement Center will impose a contractual penalty on the company for each day of delay, amounting to € 41,600 per day."

But that is not the only headache being faced by SIA Brief. According to De Facto, Kārlis Borks-Putniņš, the company's commercial director, is being investigated by police for large-scale embezzlement and document forgery in connection with a case from the summer of 2019 when he was working as commercial director of a company called "UNI Project", owned by Lithuanian businessman Vidmantas Šelmis.

Police confirmed to De Facto that "There are two suspects in the criminal proceedings and the criminal proceedings will soon be transferred to prosecution," without naming the suspects. However, no case has yet commenced and no-one has yet been found guilty of a crime.

Asked about the criminal proceedings, Borks-Putniņš replied: “I will not comment. A pre-trial investigation is ongoing."

He also declined to talk about another aspect of his biography when asked by De Facto. 10 years ago, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB) detained him with 10,500 lats (equivalent to around 15,000 euros) in cash which KNAB believed was linked to bribery. At that time, Borks-Putniņš worked for the Rīga municipal Road Administration department.

KNAB believed that Borks-Putniņš and the executive director of a company had organized a bribe to the then head of the Road Administration Mārtiņš Lauva. However, the prosecutor's office closed the criminal case against Borks-Putniņš because it concluded that it had not been proven that the cash was intended for bribes.

"It has nothing to do with SIA Brief or public procurement or anything like that. These are separate cases that have nothing to do with today's issues,” Borks-Putniņš told De Facto, saying he could not remember why he had 10,500 lats in cash.

The government had originally planned that from 6 December, all on-site workers would be required to take a self-test for Covid-19 at least twice a week. However, it was forced to abandon the idea of mandatory on-site testing for Covid-19 with antigen tests when several bidders in the tender said they could not meet delivery deadlines, with most of the tests sourced from China.

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