Jurģis Liepnieks, a PR specialist and former advisor to ex-prime minister Andris Škēle and recently resigned advisor to the current PM, Aigars Kalvitis (both of the People's Party founded by Sķēle), claims that Kempmayer Media Limited (KML), a mysterious company that was awarded a USD 53 million contract to implement digital terrestrial TV in Latvia, was actually started by Latvian TV mogul Andrejs Ēķis and Šķēle as an indirect stakeholder.
This is the story my newspaper is coming out with tommorrow. Both Ēķis, the head of Latvian Independent Television (LNT) and Škēle have denied Liepnieks allegations, with Škēlē saying they were a mixture of fact and fantasy.
Since November 2002, when the contract, said to have, in fact, been between KML (owned by Ēķis and an offshore company connected to Škēle, with a stake held by Liepnieks at one time) and Ēķis former employees and pals (at the Digital Latvian Radio and Television Center/DLRTC), much has happened. All work on digital TV was stopped in 2003, when prime minister Einārs Repše called the deal with KML a shady and fraudulent arrangement and initiated arbitration proceedings to have the contract declared invalid. The Stockholm arbitration tribunal so declared in June 2006, though saying that the DLRTC had been misled into signing the agreement ( a milder ruling than saying it was deceived by deliberate fraudulent intent).
The boards of the DLRTC and its parent company, the state-owned Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LVRTC), which runs broadcasting infrastructure in Latvia, were quickly dismissed and 11 persons, representing a range of individuals (company and state officials, businesmen, lawyers and financial advisors) connected in some way to the digital TV deal, have been charged with criminal offenses, mainly fraud and money laundering, or actions to aid and abet such crimes. Since KML did actually deliver digital TV equipment and partially installed it, the fraud charge may be hard to prove.
What is striking about Liepnieks version of events (and it has been guessed at in the Latvian media) is the arrogant stupidity of those involved, who actually believed that in 2000-2002, one could carry on as if it was the "anything goes" early 90s, and that it was necessary to go to Byzantine lengths to cover one's tracks and then sit across from the DLRTC and say -- wink, wink-- we're this totally unknown British company, so trust us. And since everyone knew what the game was about-- so says Liepnieks-- there was no reason not to trust. Indeed, had the plan been executed, Latvia would have gotten a reasonable start on digital terrestrial instead of going nowhere fast. Alas, the homeboys (a paralell concept to the Latvian bālēliņi, hard to translate) didn't realize that there would be «a verry great messh» (viene liele šmuce) to mimic the Yiddish influenced accent of Ābrams, a Latvian Jewish country peddlar character who is seen in several classics of the late 19th century Latvian stage. Ābrams, a slightly comic but lovable curmudgeon, warns some Latvian farm women that their schemes will come to a bad end. Still applicable in the 2000s (rest your fictional soul, Ābram..).
Anyway, whatever Liepnieks motives for, to put it mildly, dragging his old boss over the coals and causing no small amount of possible trouble for Ēķis, it is a great parting shot now that I am moving on from the paper in the next ten days or so.