This is a copy of Re:Baltica’s English newsletter, sent on Aug 23, 2018. If you want to receive newsletters like this via e-mail, sign up!
Dear Re:Baltica friends,
With regard to the growing interest in the coming elections to the Latvian parliament or Saeima, we will experiment with offering you a weekly summary of important events up to election day on October 6. These newsletters are a partly-off-record synthesis of the main events and issues to save you time monitoring the media.
One big thing… Is a Latvian oligarch supporting a populist party as a means of getting Harmony (Saskaņa) into the next government?
There is considerable circumstantial evidence that Ainars Šlesers, a former politician, government minister and, yet again, a businessman, is supporting the populist Who Owns The State (KPVLV), founded in 2016 by the former actor and parliamentarian Artuss Kaimiņš and others. What points to this?
- Changes in the editorial policy of Dienas Bizness, a business newspaper and website founded by the Swedish Bonnier Publishing group but sold to new and sometimes non-transparent owners in 2009. Mr. Šlesers, considered one of three leading oligarchs in Latvia is seen as the true beneficial owner of the once leading general news newspaper Diena and Dienas Business (together with another oligarch, former Prime Minister and businessman Andris Šķēle).
- This spring, Dienas Bizness suddenly started publishing interviews with candidates for ministerial posts from the allegedly pro-Russian Harmony and editorials backing KPVLV. The newspaper also published editorials attacking political rivals of Harmony and KPVLV using rhetoric alluding to “Soros” conspiracy theories. The publication also criticized the Finance Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola for calling for very strict regulation of Latvian banks to prevent money laundering, which has been detected on a large scale by the US authorities and international researchers.
- What is the purpose of this? There are several purposes. Mr. Šlesers current business interests are linked to transit flows from Russia. Therefore, a Harmony government would mean better relations with Russia, while eased regulation of banks serving non-resident customers would make life easier for Mr. Šlesers business partners. The rants against “Sorosites” seen to reflect personal offense at some of the ideas advocated by NGOs financed by George Soros, such as support of LGBT rights and marriage equality. Mr. Šlesers was one of the main sponsors several years ago of an amendment to the Latvian Constitution defining marriage as possible only between a man and a woman.
- Revenge. The ex-politician businessman also seems to want to prevent former officials of the anti-corruption agency KNAB (two are running on the New Conservative Party ticket) from gaining any political power. He sees KNAB as responsible for leaking the so-called “Oligarch conversations” clandestinely recorded at a Riga hotel where Šlesers and other politicians and oligarchs were heard plotting schemes that amounted to state capture and possible corruption. The tapes, recorded with legal sanction were to be used in a criminal case that was dropped, but transcripts of the conversations were leaked to the weekly magazine IR.
- Dienas Bizness, in communications with the international media Politico denied any connection to Mr. Šlesers.
- Secretly filmed having breakfast. But last week Re:Baltica observed Mr. Šlesers, Sandris Točs, the author of the critical commentaries, Jānis Maršāns, the legal owner of Dienas Bizness and the Harmony candidate for Minister of Justice Guntars Grīnvalds having breakfast at a Riga hotel. (Unfortunately, only in Latvian.) We have information that the four have been meeting regularly during the pre-election period. Mr. Šlesers declined to answer questions about his ties to KPVLV saying he was a private person who had no obligation to answer questions from journalists. TheKPVLV leadership has denied any connection with Mr. Šlesers. (Read our story in Russian.)
The facts gathered by Re:Baltica indicate that the editors of Dienas Bizness are not independent in selecting editorial themes and favor Harmony and KPVLV in the forthcoming vote. However, it is not clear exactly what ties Mr. Šlesers has with the populist party – does he merely share information or are there financial ties.
July voter polls showed Harmony, as always, in first place at 21% with KPVLV in third place after a sharp rise to 7%. This makes it unlikely that both parties can gain a majority of seats in the 100-member Saeima. However, there is a large number of undecided voters – 23%, but almost 13% of voters are saying that they don’t plan to vote at all.
If you have any questions or suggestions on what you would like to read in the upcoming newsletters, please, let me know.
Inga (Journalist and co-founder of Re:Baltica)
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