Latvia health minister accused of seeking law changes to “benefit” his own family’s business
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Latvia health minister accused of seeking law changes to “benefit” his own family’s business

It has been claimed that a change in national legislation in Latvia may personally benefit the family of the country’s health minister Guntis Belevics. The family of Mr Belevics allegedly stands to gain personally from regulatory changes under consideration by the Latvian Minister of Health.

If proven, the allegations could be politically highly damaging for the minister who has been in his current post just over six months.

It is alleged that the proposed change in national legislation for drug approval will directly work in favour of certain pharmaceutical businesses which are seeking to import drugs into Latvia.

The fear is that this may affect patient security and the quality supervision system on imported drugs, in particular, on non-registered drugs from third countries.

The proposals drafted by the Latvian ministry will, it is said, favour so called “parallel drug” importers.

These allegedly include at least two companies run by Arturs Belevics, a chemist, who is the son of the health minister.

Both of the firms are registered to the place where the minister has his office, according to his personal website.

The minister was previously the owner of several pharmacies and wholesale companies. But he stepped down as chairman of the board of these companies in the autumn of last year except one where he was reportedly still a board member until 23 January this year despite being the minister for more two months.  

The whole issue has been given added significance because Latvia is the current holder of the rotating EU presidency.

Opponents of the proposed regulatory changes hope to raise the issue at the Eastern Neighbourhood Partnership summit the EU has convened in the Latvian capital Riga on 20 May.

The allegations, which have been flatly denied by the minister, have come  to light after transparency campaigners accessed publicly available records from the Latvian Enterprises Register, an official portal which is accessible to the public in Latvia. The data has also been seen by this website.

The allegations that the minister himself may personally gain from a change in Latvian legislation on the importation on drugs has triggered suggestions of a potential conflict of interest.

The potential family involvement is the latest twist to emerge in a long running saga relating to the importation of non-registered drugs from third countries.

The issue has been aired on Latvian TV by, among others, Latvian investigative journalist Inga Springe.

She told this website, “I have done a research on the topic, but it was shortly before Belevics became the health minister and I was mostly focused on his business in general. His son owns the company whose business is parallel importation.

“The minister’s slogan before elections was that he will make it cheaper to register new drugs in Latvia. As a result,  he said the price for such drugs will go down and he will be able to offer much cheaper state compensated drugs. I haven’t heard that he has done any of that.”

She added, “On my TV programme Mr Belevics said: ‘Anyway, if I become health minister, I can guarantee that my son’s business will only suffer from my decisions.”

Mr Belevics is a businessman-turned-politician who launched the “Sun” and “Moon” chain of drug wholesalers/pharmacies in Latvia. It has 43 pharmacies throughout the country.

A doctor and biophysicist by training, the 57-year-old Mr Belevics has been health minister since November 2014. 

Despite attempts by this website to contact him via his ministry, he was not available for comment.

The new draft Cabinet regulation has given rise to concerns that the system for drug registration will “open the floodgates” to counterfeit drugs in Europe because “parallel importers” will not be subject to the same checks and balances as provided for in current Latvian legislation for registered importers.

The potentially lethal danger posed by bogus drugs has been highlighted in a disturbing new  report by the Italian Pharmacology Agency.

The exhaustive report details the findings of an investigation that took place because people in Italy had allegedly died from counterfeit medicines. 

The report concludes that some drugs were fake and that two firms in this “international chain” were from Latvia (with others being from Hungary, Italy and Cyprus).

In Brussels a formal parliamentary question has been submitted to the executive about the proposed change while the Brussels based watchdog the International Foundation for Better Governance has called for the plans to be reviewed or scrapped altogether by Latvia.

By Martin Banks