The regional court in Riga has found the owner of the Baltic – Russian media powerhouse and his Estonian side-kick guilty of breaching EU sanctions against Russia and fined over three million euros in the biggest criminal case of this kind the Baltic country has seen so far.
The co-owner of Baltic Media Alliance (BMA), Oleg Solodov, and his Estonian side-kick, Margus Merima, admitted the charge of sanctions breach in court, the prosecutor Aldis Lasmanis confirmed to the Baltic Center of Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica.
Court has fined each of them personally 25 000 euros, and the companies related to them – Latvian registered BMA and UK-registered B.M.A Ltd which is now called “Renevo Media Ltd.” – will have to pay 3.18 million euros and 25 000 euros respectively, according to news agency LETA. “I am really glad that we were able to collect enough evidence to prosecute this complex case, and gains for the Latvian state budget are impressive,” Lasmanis told Re:Baltica.
BMA millions were arrested as a security measure at the beginning of the case, so not paying if the verdict is not contested is impossible.
Solodov and Merima still can appeal the verdict. Solodov could not be reached for comment on Friday night. Merima refused to answer any questions to Delfi. “”Like earlier times, I will comment nothing about anything,” he replied.
The case shook the local media world when Latvian and Estonian security police simultaneously searched in BMA offices in Riga and Tallinn on Feb 4, 2020 in a recently started criminal case of the sanctions breach, surrounded by deafening silence on its content. It was followed by BMA dismantling editorial offices and taking off air the local Russian-language newscasts in their most popular Russian TV channel, Pervij Baltijskij Kanal (PBK). It is now broadcasting under other Baltic licences to a significantly smaller audience.
According to the previous investigation by Re:Baltica/Delfi (Estonia), Russian oligarch Yuriy Kovalchuk is at the centre of the case. EU has put him, along with tens of other Russian top officials and businessmen, on the sanctions list because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The EU has described Kovalchuk as a long-time acquaintance of Putin and said the businessman was “benefiting from his links with Russian decision-makers”.
Kovalchuk is the chairman and the largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya which, according to the EU document, “has important stakes in the National Media Group” (NMG). NMG in turn “controls television stations which actively support the Russian government’s policies of destabilisation of Ukraine”.
Many of the 25 channels which BMA broadcasted in the Baltics belong to the Russian-registered Perviy Kanal, a minority stake of which is indirectly owned by Kovalchuk through NMG. That is how Solodov is connected with the Russian oligarch.
Since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and the war in Ukraine followed, BMA which holds the broadcasting rights for PBK, Ren TV, NTV Mir and other popular Russian TV channels in the Baltics, faced many storms.
It had regularly been accused of being a propaganda tool of the Kremlin, while Russia-friendly Baltic politicians have used it for self-promotion, paying BMA handsome sums of money to help them hang on to power. In February, 2020, the UK media regulator ruled that BMA had breached the impartial coverage regulations six times when reporting on events in Ukraine and the Baltics, and on the poisoning of a former secret agent’s family in Great Britain, and imposed a fine of 20,000 British pounds. For similar reasons, on several occasions, Latvian and Lithuanian media regulators have also temporarily banned the broadcasting of several TV channels that BMA re-broadcasted.
More of Re:Baltica’s previous work on BMA:
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