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Ex-PM: Digitalgate defendant clutches at straws to avoid guilty verdict

Einars Repše/flickr.com/State Chancellery.

Einars Repše, who served as Latvian prime minister during allegedly fraudulent attempts to introduce digital television in Latvia in the 2000s, stated that the defendant Jurģis Liepnieks, is clutching at straws, when criticising the case as being politically motivated in the defendant’s last word in appeal trial this week.

Liepnieks, who is seeking a not guilty verdict in the appeal case against his convictions of participating in large-scale fraud and money laundering as committed in a group on the basis a prior plan, evaluated in this last word that the case was politically motivated and that the then head of the Latvian government, Repše, had been interested in launching the Digitalgate criminal case.

In a telephone interview with BNN this week, Repše commented that in the early 2000s, the whole idea of the digitalisation of television had been progressive and directed at the development of Latvia, so the prime minister had sought to support it.

«However, the more we analysed the materials of the project, the more suspicious it seemed and prompted us to think that it is a way for some people to earn at the expense of the state. Therefore the case was given to the prosecutor’s office,» Repše recalled.
 

The former politician, who has also held the post of the President of the Bank of Latvia from 1991 to 2001, noted that there is nothing surprising about the accused trying to justify themselves and to blame prosecutors for their incompetence, even despite the existing evidence.
 

At the same time, Repše declined to comment accusations to defence lawyers, who had represented their clients, as Repše had not read the latest court materials.
 

Reportedly, in the appeal trial about the alleged large-scale Latvian-British scam to introduce digital television in Latvia, Liepnieks has been found not guilty in his charge of violating the boundaries of his professional duties motivated by avarice, but guilty in his charge of participating in large-scale fraud and money laundering as committed in a group on the basis a prior plan.
 

News portal Revolucija.eu reported on Wednesday, June 6, that in 2015 the Riga Regional Court in 2015 did not punish Liepnieks with a prison sentence and convicted Liepnieks to a fine of 72 000 euros, but the defendant did not agree with the verdict and appealed against it.

Final words by Liepnieks and Ēķis

On Wednesday, June 6, Liepnieks expressed his final word pleading not guilty. Moreover, he was convinced that «the verdict of the judge contains a maths mistake by several millions».

«And it is us, who are blamed for fraud. Perhaps, if there was no mistake, we would not be convicted?» Liepnieks asked rhetorically.

The other accused Andrejs Ēķis, a film producer and former head of LNT commercial television channel, explained in his final word: «What concerns me, in 1995 we noticed as an experiment that the digitalisation of television had started [abroad – BNN] and we understood that in the near future it could reach Latvia. I did everything to influence people in some way so that digital television would appear also in Latvia».

Ēķis, also said he was not guilty and stressed that he was «still fully convinced about what I was doing».

Court conclusions on defendants based on testimonies and evidence

Having analysed the court materials of the trial, Revolucija.eu made a summary of the court’s conclusions based on testimonies and evidence.

It wrote that it has been proven with testimonies and evidence that the employees of the Latvian State Radio and Television Centre (LVRTC), the Latvian Ministry of Transport and the independent television channel LNT were not aware of the work of Andrejs Ēķis and other persons as to beginning talks on introducing digital television in Latvia.

The set of evidence allows drawing the conclusion that the plan of Andrejs Ēķis and Jurģis Liepnieks had not been to carry out honest business operations, but the purpose of their activities had been to secretly engage in the digital television project, by creating the delusion of an entity to carry out the digital television project and during its realisation to acquire material gain.

It had also been planned to hide money behind the shareholders of the British-based Kempmayer Media Latvia (KLM), a company, where they and other persons from Latvia would be the final beneficiaries.

Revolucija.eu pointed out conclusions from the testimony by the businessman, former Latvian Prime Minister and former employer of Liepnieks, Andris Šķēle, namely, that he had several contacts and conversations with Liepnieks about him having been offered to take part in the project in relation to digital television.

Liepnieks was the enthusiast of this project, who would be able to attract the leading media specialists and he was in contact with the client, who was interested in the implementation of the digital television project in Latvia (KML).

As to the testimonies of Andrejs Ēķis, he has testified that a conversation with Liepnieks had taken place accidentally at a spontaneous initiative shown by Liepnieks. Ēķis had outlined to Liepineks his vision of the development of television in Latvia.

Liepnieks had grown very interested, offered Ēķis different methods of public relations, opportunities to attract funding and his contacts among politicians.

The court found that the evidence point to the role and significance of Ēķis and Liepnieks in organising the fraud, by reaching a mutual agreement. Conditions have been proven that the purpose of founding KML had been to fictitiously engage in the digital television project, by hiding the identities of the participants and real owners.

Liepnieks and Ēķis had no reason to discuss the involvement of KML in the project, since no official body had discussed the project at the time and had not made any decision of the shape and the way the digital television project could be implemented.

There is reason to conclude that the director of KLM, Michael Anthony Flanagan, had built the structure of KML participants on the basis of information received from Liepnieks and Ēķis, who gave information to businessman Gints Bandēns and lawyer Jānis Loze.

After the evaluation of evidence and the exclusion of all reasonable doubt, there is a reason to recognise that without any objective ground, for the reason that there was no contract and no official information at the Ministry of Transport, the LVRTC or its defunct subsidiary, the Digital Latvian State Radio and Television Centre (DLRTC), about the possible activity of KML in the digital television project, Liepnieks, Loze and businessman Uldis Kokins, who had previously worked with creating the structure of KML participants and discussed the possible role of KML, discussed with Flanagan the activities of KML in the introduction of digital television in Latvia and the provision of goods and services.

A judge in the trial established that the evidence provide sufficient ground to conclude that the motives of Liepnieks, Loze and Kokins had been criminal, namely, to receive funding with no reason during the implementation of the digital television project.

In the testimony by Michael Anthony Flanagan it was told that the process had been coordinated via Bandēns and Liepnieks and that Flanagan had received money and its purpose had been to pay for the stock capital.

According to the testimony by the ex-wife of Liepnieks, former director the business consulting and real estate management firm SIA Sofists, Diāna Liepniece (Urtāne), she had paid 5 000 British pounds in the account of Bandēns only to fulfil a request by Liepnieks.

Bandēns, in turn, stated in his testimony that there had been a payment of 5 000 British pounds in connection with KML or related companies that he had transferred to the British business consulting firm Wilton & Partners, at the request of Liepnieks.

On the grounds of the evidence, there was a reason to recognise that Liepnieks had paid for managing KML directly and via Bandēns, showed that Liepnieks had been personally interested in the existence of KML, although formally Liepnieks had not been a stakeholder in KML any more at the time.

According to the evidence, the plan of Liepnieks had not only been to support the digital television project, but he also had personal interest to receive material gain, which was done, by concluding a fictitious contract, involving SIA Sofists and a foreign firm Timber International Services S.A.

The fact that Loze sought the agreement of Liepnieks to the Contract on the Establishment of Digital Television in Latvia between KML and the DLRTC indicated that Liepnieks was aware of the case of the digital television and was interested in it.

In addition, Harijs Krongorns, an employee of the firm Uzņēmumu vadība un konsultācijas owned by Andris Šķēle, testified that he assumed that it had been the initiative of Liepnieks for a copy of the contract on the digital television to be e-mailed to Krongorns via Loze.

Circumstances that Liepnieks, who had no direct or indirect legal relations with the DLRTC, travelled to London for the signing of the contract with DLRTC’s representative Guntars Spunde, was present at the signing of the contract and explained the status of DLRTC to Flanagan at the meeting and gave a promise corresponding to the contract that the DLRTC would organise a bank guarantee, point to the role of Liepnieks as the organiser in the preparation of this contract.

BNN

08-06-2018
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