Top Latvian telecoms executives charged with fraud

Criminal fraud charges have been brought against Juris Gulbis, the chief executive of Tet, the Latvian telecommunications and entertainment company jointly owned by Sweden’s Telia Company and the Latvian state, and other current and former Tet executives, the Latvian State Prosecutor confirmed.

The charges against Gulbis, Tet director of legal and corporate affairs Toms Meisītis, Jānis Ligers, a former executive of the company, and Gintars Kavacs, the owner and executive of a digital video broadcast equipment company, date back to transactions more than 10 years ago, when Tet was called Lattelecom.

Gulbis and the other Lattelecom executives allegedly made deals to facilitate a fast launch of digital terrestrial broadcasting in the Latvian capital Riga by buying equipment from a company run by Kavacs, who in turn had bought it from an earlier digital TV project that ended in scandal and criminal charges against around 20 persons.

The agreements that Lattelecom, now Tet, made with Hannu Digital, the company run by Kavacs at the time, allegedly made inflated payments to the company and caused some EUR 7.5 million in losses to Tet, according to local media. A spokesperson for Latvia’s State Auditor said irregularities had been detected in this arrangement in 2010, but the amount of losses inflicted on Lattelecom/Tet was still confidential.

Tet CEO Juris Gulbis (photo- Tet homepage)

Following the October 25 television report, Tet published a statement confirming that criminal charges had been filed and quoting Gulbis as saying that he “categorically and completely rejects the accusations presented, we are ready to defend and justify every decision made by the company. Our priority has always been to develop the company only in a legal way.”

Tet supervisory council chairman Gatis Kokins said the company retains faith in Gulbis and Meisītis until it conducts its own investigation of the charges. Speaking on TV3, a commercial television channel on October 25, Kokins said Tet would hire a “forensics” investigator to examine the charges and report by December 1.

At Telia Company in Stockholm Johanna Helsing Martin, a communications officer, wrote in an e-mail that: “we are aware of the situation and are following the matter closely. Given this is an ongoing investigation we cannot comment further at this stage.”

Saulveidis Vārpiņš, a criminal lawyer familiar with the case brought against the earlier digital TV project, called the filing of charges against Gulbis and the others “ rather strange”. He said the case seemed to involve one of the longest investigations leading to charges in his experience.

“We have trials in this country that can last ten years, but not preliminary investigations that lead to charges lasting this long,” Vārpiņš said.

Tet, formed as Lattelecom by the Latvian state and foreign investors in the early 1990s, is Latvia’s main provider of fixed network telecommunications services and optical internet. It also provides television and video-on demand over the internet and produces some Latvian-language television content of its own. The company also sells TV sets, computers and other electronic equipment in retail shops and on the internet, and offers home electricity services.

Tet had group sales of EUR 227.6 million in 2019 and earnings of EUR 36.2 million. It is owned 51 percent by the Latvian state asset management agency Possessor and 49 percent by Tilts Communications, a subsidiary of Telia Company.

A freelance journalist based in Riga, Latvia who has covered the country and region for 20 years. Speak native Latvian and English, fluent Swedish and German.

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