RIGA - The Zemgale Regional Court on March 23 handed out sentences to three of the four defendants in a case concerning bribery during the 2005 Jurmala mayoral elections. Two of the defendants have escaped custody and it is likely international warrants for their arrest will be issued.
A former Jurmala mayor, Juris Hlevickis, was sentenced to a five-year prison term and confiscation of property. He will also lose his seat in the Jurmala City Council as soon as the court sentence takes effect. Hlevickis was detained in the courtroom immediately after being sentenced.
The verdict represents a successful crackdown on the endemic corruption in Latvian politics. While this was officially only a "municipal case," two major political players 's former prime minister and People's Party backer Andris Skele and Transport Minister Ainars Slesers 's have been implicated in the Jurmala-gate affair.
Germans Miluss, a former BMW dealer who was implicated in the bribery scandal, was also sentenced to five years and confiscation of property.
Both Hlevickis and Miluss, however, signed all of their property over to their wives the day after being caught. The court has ordered that a 20,000 lat (28,457 euro) bail paid by Miluss' wife be returned.
Miluss was not present at the court hearing and police have been unable to locate him.
Osvalds Svilans, Miluss' lawyer, told journalists that Miluss was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but was unsure which hospital he was taken to. Svilans commented that Miluss probably became sick because he knew he was facing a guilty verdict in court.
Prosecutor Velta Zaluksne expressed concern that Miluss has fled the country, in which case an international warrant for his arrest will be issued. Police have urged anyone who might have information regarding the businessman's whereabouts to come forward.
A search is already underway for Leonids Lasmanis, who was one of the men caught delivering the bribe. He is purported to be hiding in Russia. Due to his absence from court hearings, Lasmanis' trial will be delayed until he can be found.
The March 12, 2005 Jurmala elections were marred with allegations of scandal and bribery. In the lead up to the election, newly elected city council member Ilmars Ancans was offered a bribe of 20,000 euros to ensure that Hlevickis would gain the mayor's seat.
Ancans tipped off the anti-corruption bureau KNAB to the bribe, resulting in the detention of Lasmanis and Harijs Volbrugs while in the process of handing over the money. Ancans then went on to cast the deciding vote in favor of former Jurmala city chief architect Inese Aizstrauta from the New Era party.
Volbrugs was the only defendant who pled guilty to the charges. He was given a three-year suspended sentence and a three-year probation term. The lighter sentence is a result of both his cooperation with the investigation and his poor health.
Both Svilans and Hlevickis' lawyer, Janis Grinbergs, have vowed to appeal the verdict within the allowed 10 day period. Grinbergs told journalists that the media and society had deprived the proceedings of impartiality. He said that Hlevickis' guilt had not been proved during the hearings.
Volbrugs said that Skele and Slesers were the real organizers of the bribe, and that Hlevickis was only an intermediary.
After evidence came out in 2006 that the two political figures had been aware of the bribe before it took place, Prime Minister Kalvitis forced Slesers to resign from his post, saying that he could no longer trust the minister.
Despite their implied connection to the corruption, no charges have been pressed on either politician.
Since Ancans has been relieved of his duties as the primary witness, the court proceedings will no longer be held behind closed doors. As someone tried to run Zaluksne over with a car last November, however, she will continue to be under the protection of bodyguards.