Sunday, March 28, 2010

Daimler bribed Riga City Council, Corruption Fighters Totally Clueless

The German company Daimler has paid bribes to the Riga City Council for ensuring that Mercedes busses would be purchased for the public transport agency Rigas Satiksme, according to an FBI investigation in the US. The payments in Latvia are apparently part of a wide ranging bribery campaign in a number of countries.
At least two Latvian television stations -- TV3  in its "Nothing Personal" (Nekā personīgi) and the LNT news -- disclosed that at least three payments of several hundred thousand lats were made to political parties sitting on the Riga City Council in the late 1990s and after the turn of the century. "Nothing Personal" interviewed the head of the Bureau to Combat and Prevent Corruption (Latvian acronym - KNAB) who was completely clueless about the matter. Wasn't he told? Weren't there any prior signals from the FBI? How can an American law enforcement agency know more about corruption in Latvia than KNAB, the institution specifically charged with investigating (not interstate crime, not kidnapping, not drug smugglers, not threats to national security etc. like the American FBI) nothing else but corruption.
Failed state or simply Fucked State?
And that is not all. It now seems that hundreds of valid-looking Latvian driver's licenses, that were confiscated by the police from Latvian drivers for various reasons (drunk driving, serious traffic violations) have been found to have come into the hands of criminal gangs and used for various frauds and scams, including renting cars and then selling them abroad. One case was discovered when a stranger attempted to buy a mobile phone on a leasing arrangement. He presented the confiscated driver's license of an acquaintance of the phone salesman refused the transaction.
It is not known how hundreds of confiscated driver's licenses (which normally should either be destroyed, then re-issued at the end of the suspension, or kept in a safe) made their way into the hands of criminal gangs, but it is a logical assumption that someone in the police sold the licenses to criminals knowing what they would be used for, and no one knew, or more likely, someone covered up their disappearance.
Failed state or simply Depraved State?

Monday, March 22, 2010

A happy turn in Ziggy's grave? Not really...

With some glaring mistakes corrected.

Sorry about the flippant and irreverant reference to a true Latvian national hero, the nation's first foreign minister, Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics, who earned de facto and de jure recognition for the young and beleaguered Republic of Latvia. Sarmite Elerte, the former editor-in-chief of Diena, the national daily sold last year to the British Rowland family, has started an organization called the Meierovics' Society for Progressive Change, gathering many Latvian intellectuals and semi-celebrities. The aims are well-meaning and, indeed, Zigfrīds (Ziggy starts to sound wrong) can turn to the other side in his resting place with a little more confidence that all is not lost and he is at least well remembered.
However, this looks like yet another society for the betterment of all that is somewhat removed from the realities and depravity of political life in Latvia. Even as the ink was drying on the new organization's founding documents, Riga mayor Nils Ušakovs was telling reporters that around LVL 1 million had been embezzled or otherwise vanished from the accounts of the bankrupt municipally-owned health insurer RSK. Par for the course in Latvia, where stealing from the Children's Hospital came as naturally as breathing for some folks.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons (if the above doesn't suffice) for other kinds of turning in the grave, should anyone care to... Current ministers, instead of heros, have a talent for being buffoons, such as outgoing Minister of Justice (not Interior, my mistake) Mareks Segliņš, who handed in his resignation from the post of Minister of Heath. Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis kindly asked Mareks to get it together and resubmit a proper resignation. It is not known whether Minister of Health Baiba Rozentāle resigned from the Justice Ministry. Four ministers, all from the Peoples' Party (Tautas Partija/TP) have left the government after the party leader Andris Šķēle ordered his people into opposition.
Dombrovskis of the New Era (Jaunais Laiks/JL) is holding together a minority government that may bumble along until the elections. Whoever has the misfortune of winning that contest is going to face cutting at least another LVL 500 million from the state budget, something that is unlikely to happen without drastic cuts in pensions and other already meager entitlements.
Unfortunately, despite whatever well-meaning organizations with nice people that are set up, the country has been pushed past a number of tipping points, and I see no other possible future for Latvia except as a stagnant, corrupt, hapless and hopeless, increasingly depopulated territory on the margins of the European Union. At least for the rest of the decade. For that, we have the political elite and our tolerance of it to thank.