RIGA - The Corruption Prevention Bureau (KNAB) has opened an inquiry over a report by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs (For Latvia and Ventspils) has leveraged and corrupted officials in Latvia, LETA was told at KNAB.
At the beginning of February, KNAB chief Jekabs Straume would not comment to journalists whether an inquiry or criminal proceedings have been launched over the OFAC report. Now, KNAB representatives confirmed to LETA that the bureau has opened an inquiry to probe the information provided in the OFAC report.
In February, Straume said that KNAB had asked the United States for details on which the OFAC had based its allegations. The KNAB representatives said that the bureau cannot provide more extensive information about the inquiry, the content of the requested information and whether KNAB has received a reply from the U.S.
As reported, OFAC on December 9 last year imposed sanctions on a number of natural and legal persons in Europe, Asia and Latin America, including on Lembergs, based on the so-called Magnitsky act. OFAC listed four organizations that belong to or are controlled by Lembergs - Vetspils Freeport Administration, Ventspils Development Agency, Business Development Agency, and the Latvian Transport Business Association. Later OFAC lifted sanctions on the Freeport of Ventspils Administration.
According to OFAC, Lembergs has served as the mayor of Ventspils since 1988. From that time, he has been repeatedly accused of money laundering, bribery, and abuse of office. Lembergs controls entities through political parties and corrupt politicians, and systematically exploits those entities and individuals for his own economic gain.
Lembergs has used his influence over leadership of political parties to shape government personnel and place certain government officials in positions, as well as to obstruct other government officials from obtaining leadership positions. Additionally, Lembergs has leveraged and corrupted law enforcement officials to protect his interests and subvert politicians whom he otherwise was unable to control.
Riga Regional Court has been hearing a case against Lembergs for years. The Ventspils mayor is being tried for massive graft, money laundering, abusing his office powers and other serious crimes. Lembergs' son Anrijs Lembergs and business partner Ansis Sormulis are co-defendants in the case.
The prosecution is seeking a jail sentence of eight years and confiscation of property, as well as a fine of EUR 64,500 for Lembergs.