Ventspils Musical High School ends up in bribery scandal

A bribe of EUR 7 000 was reportedly given to ensure Ventspils Musical High School is declared compliant with fire safety requirements, as reported by public broadcaster TV3 programme Nekā personīga.

Construction of Ventspils Musical High School cost EUR 25 million and the building itself is to be commissioned at the end of June. Internal Security Bureau has acquired information about an attempt to bribe the fire-fighters committee. Investigators waited for the committee to accept the bribe and permit commissioning of the high school’s fire safety system. The bribed officials were later detained at the end of May. Among them are both deputy commanders of Kurzeme region’s State Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) Mursals Kerimovs, Romāns Andrijausks, as well as two inspectors.

According to information from Nekā personīga, the size of the bribe in question was EUR 7 000. The bribe was taken by Kerimovs. Money was then divided among committee members. One of the bribed officials decided to hide the money using an interesting method – by burying it in the ground.

A new and independent committee arrived in Ventspils after the detainment of bribed officials. A new inspection was then performed in the building. The repeated inspection revealed at least two serious problems. One of them is that the distance between flue discharge deflectors is 37 m instead of 30. This means smoke during a fire will not disperse sufficiently quickly and people will be at risk of inhaling fumes.

The programme reports that the firm that was possibly responsible for giving the bribe is VPM Latvia. This firm was attracted to monitor fire safety system late in the project’s life, when only a couple of months were left and it was necessary to ensure commissioning of the project would not be at risk.

VMP Latvia is owned by ex-SFRS employee Vilnis Puļķis. He has 20 years of experience working in fire safety industry. In 2008 he founded his own company immediately after leaving SFRS. VPM offers services in construction project management and specific fire safety matters.

Puļķis’ firm has worked in two projects financed by Europe – reconstruction of Ikšķile Secondary School and reconstruction of Jelgava City Hospital. VPM Latvia is also currently involved in reconstruction of the New Riga Theatre.

In the project with Ventspils Musical High School ex-fire fighter Puļkis participated with his other firm – VPM Construction. This company performs monitoring of use of fireproof materials in construction work.

Internal Security Bureau believes Puļķis may be the main organizer of the bribery attempt. The bureau requested his arrest, but the court released him on bail for EUR 10 000.

Nekā personīga is aware that the bribe was passed to the head of the fire safety inspection committee Kerimovs by an employee of Puļķis’ firm – Laimonis Drozdovs. He had previously worked in SFRS and read lectures in the Fire Safety and Civil Defense College. Like Puļķis, Drozdovs was not put under arrest and decided to release him in exchange for EUR 10 000 of bail money.

European Commission has also halted part of the funding for Ventspils Musical High School until the situation with possible corruption has been resolved.

A disciplinary investigation has commenced. Officials involved in the bribery case have been suspended from the project until the investigation has concluded. The internal investigation in SFRS commenced following Interior Affairs Minister Sandis Ģirģens. He considers this situation a serious problem.

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