Mobile phone firm behind meteorite hoax

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The Independent Online

A Swedish mobile phone operator acknowledged today it was behind an elaborate meteorite hoax in Latvia and pledged to reimburse the Baltic nation for all costs spent by police, rescue and military workers in the incident.

Vita Sirica, a spokeswoman for the Latvian branch of Tele2, said the stunt was co-ordinated with a PR firm "to draw attention away from Latvia's economic crisis and toward something else more interesting".

In response, Latvia said today it would cut its contracts with the company.

"The Interior Ministry doesn't want to do business with a firm that promotes itself at our expense," Interior Minister Linda Murniece told the LNT news channel.

The incident made headlines around the world on Monday after rescue authorities said a fiery object had created a large crater in a meadow near the Estonian border.

Scientists rushed to the scene to investigate, while rescue, police and military units cordoned off the area and tested for radioactivity.

Geologist Uldis Nulle said the 27-foot wide and nine foot (three-meter) deep hole initially appeared to have been caused by a meteorite. But after a closer analysis, he and other experts said the hole was too tidy and had to have been made by humans.

State Police, a branch of the Interior Ministry, said they were still calculating the costs incurred from the hoax but did not plan to open a criminal investigation.

Sirica said nine people dug the hole and burned chemicals at the bottom to create the illusion of a meteorite crash. They filmed the smoking hole in a video that later appeared on Latvian news sites, she said.

At the company's headquarters in Stockholm, Tele2 spokeswoman Pernilla Oldmark said the hoax was carried out by the company's Latvian branch but sanctioned by its head office.

"This is entirely a part of a marketing campaign that will start shortly," Oldmark said, declining to elaborate.

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