Estonian, Latvian security services raid suspected EU sanctions evaders

KAPO headquarters in Tallinn.
KAPO headquarters in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonian and Latvian security services jointly engaged in a counter-operation on Tuesday, aimed at suspected attempts to evade European Union sanctions, according to Latvian public broadcaster LSM's English-language page.

The operation led to raids on media companies in Latvia which have links to the Russian Federation, among other locations, in concert with Internal Security Service (ISS) raids on addresses in Estonia.

However, procedural acts carried out by the ISS were not related to any media activities, BNS reports.

"The procedural acts regard business activities and are not conducted into any media activities or the content thereof," said Olga Kivistik, spokesperson for the prosecutor's office.

No further details could be disclosed on the case, the office said, since the actions concern international judicial assistance, according to BNS.

The Latvian security service, the VDD, is likewise not able to issue further comment at present, according to LSM.

The operations followed criminal proceedings begun in late 2019 related to suspected EU sanctions violations.

Latvian authorities raid pan-Baltic media company

One of the companies the VDD investigated was Baltic Media Alliance, LSM reports, which runs 25 TV channels across all three Baltic States and produces local television news in Estonia as well as Latvia.

According to LSM, Baltic Media Alliance was investigated by regulatory authorities in the U.K. last year.

As well as nine Russian-language TV channels being suspended in Latvia last year, due to their links to an individual named in the EU's sanctions, which began in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, by the Russian Federation, and at present are set to continue to at least July 31 this year.

Baltic Media Alliance is the parent company of Pervõi Baltiiskii Kanal (PBK), which broadcasts in Estonia in the Russian language.

"Through the course of Tuesday, several authorized searches were carried out at suspected sites in and around Riga, as well as in Tallinn, which obtained a large amount of documents and media," the VDD statement continued.

"The information obtained ... gives rise to suspicions that a group of persons has, by prior agreement, provided access to large amounts of financial and economic resources to a person subject to EU sanctions resulting from acts that undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

At present two individuals are being treated as suspects, LSM reports, with criminal procedures being carried out against several more.

One of the suspects is Oleg Solodovs, a co-owner and board chairman of Baltic Media Alliance, according to unofficial information obtained by BNS.

According to the business database, Latvian national Solodovs owns a 50 percent stake in the company, while the other half belongs to Russian national Aleksey Plyasunov, BNS reports.

Dmitri Kisseljov, Director-General of Rossija Segodnya, parent company of Russian-language media agency Sputnik, is on the EU sanctions list. Sputnik was forced to suspend its operations in Estonia at the beginning of the year, with sanctions preventing the outfit from holding functioning bank accounts in the country.

Estonia currently ranks 11th in press freedoms organization  Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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