RIGA - Ruslans Pankratovs, a former member of Riga City Council, who has been charged with publicly supporting Russia's crimes against Ukraine and its people and breaching international sanctions, has fled to Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry's press secretary Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Pankratovs' lawyer Imma Jansone, who represented Pankratovs in a Latvian court, told LETA that she has no information about her client's whereabouts.
As reported, Riga City Court was scheduled to hear Pankratovs' case on September 26, but the former councilor did not turn up at the court.
Jansone said earlier that Pankratovs left his home on September 23 this year and vanished. His wife reported Pankratovs' disappearance to the police.
Pankratovs did not have valid travel documents, as the ministers of the interior had prohibited him from leaving the country after he was released from custody on EUR 5,000 bail.
As reported, on December 13, 2022, the State Security Service (VDD) initiated criminal prosecution against Pankratovs for actions aimed at inciting national hatred and discord, as well as for violating the sanctions set by the European Union. Pankratovs has been charged by the Prosecutor's Office.
Pankratovs was detained by the VDD on July 30, 2022.
Evidence obtained by investigators suggest that the suspect had been using Russian propaganda websites to justify Russia's war in Ukraine and war crimes committed by Russian troops. The person had also been spreading disinformation about Latvia and its allies in order to discredit them.
Pankratovs is also suspected of collaborating with a person sanctioned by the EU.
TV3 News program reported that Pankratovs visited cities occupied by Russian forces in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia province. In footage posted on Russian propaganda channel Vesti.ru Pankratovs is seen participating in a news conference given by occupation authorities about a referendum on the occupied cities' inclusion in Russia.
Citing unconfirmed information, TV3 News said that Pankratovs had been operating as a Kremlin's influence agent for a long time.
During searches, the State Security Service seized a large number of data carriers and documents, the content of which is now being analyzed.
Pankratovs, 53, was elected to Riga City Council in 2009 from the electoral list of Harmony Center and served as a councilor for several years. In 2018 he ran in the 13th Saeima elections on the Alternative ticket and in 2019 he ran for a seat in the European Parliament on the Action Party ticket.
According to information available at Firmas.lv, Pankratovs together with Vera Pankratova is a member of the nongovernmental organization the Russian World of Latvia. Several years ago they were members of the Association against Nazism.
According to information from LETA Archive, as a Riga councilor, Pankratovs in 2015 made business trips to Moscow where he met with high-ranked Russian officials to discuss cooperation between Riga City Council and the Moscow government. Opposition councilors questioned the usefulness of Pankratovs' numerous trips to Moscow, noting that they were financed with taxpayers' money. The opposition councilors were also surprised that a rank-and-file councilor and not some leading politician was traveling to Moscow on a regular basis.