Kalvitis to Berezovsky: don't bother coming back

  • 2005-10-05
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis suggested on Sept. 29 that it was time to ban Russia's exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky from future travel to Latvia, a call that was supported the next day by President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

"My opinion about Berezovsky is perfectly clear 's I believe that he poses a real threat to the Latvian state and should be included on the list of undesirable individuals," Kalvitis said on the television program "First Persons of the State."

He did not specify what kind of threat the former Russian oligarch posed. He did, however, reiterate that there was an international warrant for Berezovsky's arrest, and that he should be detained for identification purposes if he appears in the country again.

The onetime cardinal of the Kremlin now travels under a different name, Platon Elenin, and on a British refugee passport. This has ostensibly allowed him, at least in the eyes of Latvian law enforcement authorities, to circumvent the arrest warrant.

Vike-Freiberga was quick to support the prime minister's call. "I, as the president, would expect an opinion from the Prosecutor General's Office and other law enforcement authorities as to likely threats from Berezovsky's visits to Latvia," she said.

Vike-Freiberga heads the country's national security council, a body with the power to blacklist foreigners.

Berezovsky, who lives in London where he has received asylum status, replied that if the ban came to fruition, he would be surprised but would respect the decision, the Russian news agency Interfax reported. He added that the open discussion of whether or not to bar him from visiting Latvia testified to the state's democracy.

But in a later interview with Latvian television, Berezovsky blamed billionaire George Soros for criticism of his visit that has appeared on television and in the daily Diena. The two have had stormy relations in the past.

The calls for a blacklist come after Berezovsky suddenly appeared Sept. 21 at the invitation of Neil Bush, brother of the American president, to promote an education company. During the visit Berezovsky met or spoke with speaker of the parliament Ingrida Udre, Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons, former Prime Minister Andris Skele, and local businessmen.

Upon Berezovsky's arrival, Jekabsons said he would not be extradited to Russia, where he is wanted for fraud. Kalvitis later accused the interior minister of exceeding his powers. Jekabsons has also said that he would happily shake hands with Berezovsky.

Upon Berezovsky's arrival, Jekabsons said he would not be extradited to Russia, where he is wanted for fraud. Kalvitis later accused the interior minister of exceeding his powers.

Commentary on the visit in Latvia's media contained a wide range of theories. Some speculated that the visit may be connected to real-estate deals in the eastern part of the country, as well as the purchase of a local television station. Berezovsky already has his own NGO in Latvia that he has funded for three years, reportedly investing $300,000. His Civil Liberties Fund gives aid to local Russian schools, holds concerts and provides theater tickets for children.

Many observers, however, are of the opinion that the billionaire mover-and-shaker has visited Latvia twice this year simply because he can.

"My guess is that Berezovsky's main goal is to annoy Putin as much as he can," said Pauls Raudseps, editorial page editor for Diena. This isn't the first time that Diena and LTV have been mentioned together with George Soros, he added.

Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs has also blamed Diena, LTV and Delna, an anti-corruption NGO, as his principle antagonists.

For his part, Skele denied having conversations with Berezovsky. Skele is a powerful businessman in his own right and is also widely perceived to be the power behind the People's Party, the party of Prime Minister Kalvitis. He did admit that he had met with Berezovsky and Bush during the two men's visit on Sept. 21.

The weekly program "What's Happening in Latvia," covered the visit of Berezovsky, and both Skele and Udre declined to take part.

Berezovsky's forays into former Soviet countries bordering Russia, Georgia and Ukraine, have brought attention and condemnation from Moscow. Berezovsky reportedly may have bankrolled part of the Ukrainian orange revolution, which brought about a humiliating loss for the Kremlin and a seismic shift in Russian power.

The exiled billionaire was close to the circle of power surrounding former Russian President Boris Yeltsin but fell out of favor with Putin after the latter compelled him to give up control of ORT, the most powerful broadcast TV station in Russia, and one that has in the past swayed public opinion immensely. Fearing the oligarch would use the station against the Kremlin, Putin demanded that Berezovsky relinquish control.

Russia called for Berezovsky's extradition when he arrived in February, and again when he arrived last month. Both times Latvia's general prosecutor has stated that since he has been given asylum status in Britain, an EU member state, then he cannot be handed over to Russia.