Grinbergs scandal adds new twist to old enmities

  • 2006-01-11
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - Farce and bitterness have meshed in Latvia's newest political scandal after an oligarchic mayor denied a political appointee on the grounds that the paperwork didn't specify personal data.

In the end of December, Aivars Lembergs, the renegade mayor of western port town Ventspils, refused to accept Ojars Grinbergs onto the board of Ventspils Free Port. Defending his decision, the mayor cited Grinbergs' letter of appointment, which did not specify his personal code, birthday or other information establishing his identity.

Grinbergs is a member of the right wing New Era party, which is an arch-rival of Lembergs and has sought to have prosecutors investigate allegedly unlawful activity on the part of the Ventspils mayor. New Era appointed him for the board position.

But Lembergs reportedly said the letter accompanying the appointment confused him, since it contained no specific details about Grinbergs. He asked rhetorically how he was to know "which Ojars Grinbergs" he was to allow onto the port's board.

Finally, in a recent issue of Diena, Latvia's leading daily, a mysterious job ad appeared that the Ventspils Free Port was searching for someone to fill a seat on the board of directors, and there were only two qualifications for the position: the candidate's first name had to be Ojars, and the last one Grinbergs.

This led many to believe that Lembergs would hire the first Ojars Grinbergs (other than the New Era member) who came along and have that individual fill the board seat.

In response, Diena ran a column entitled "Looking for Aivars Lembergs" on Jan. 9, clearly mocking Lembergs' ridiculous statements. "Diena has received an article… whose author identifies himself as 'Aivars Lembergs,' who is supposedly the 'city mayor of Ventspils,'" the letter sarcastically writes. "Recent events have provided reason to believe that, in Ventspils, one should take particular care with official personal documents, as it is often difficult to determine the link between first names and last names, and look into an individual's personal code to verify identity." The letter capped off its light-hearted mockery, inviting the supposed "Aivars Lembergs" who wrote the article to stop by Diena's office (the street address was conveniently provided) with a document of personal confirmation and a notarized copy of the article in order to prove that it was indeed written by Aivars Lembergs.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis asked the Economy Ministry to prepare a new letter of appointment for Ojars Grinbergs, this time verifying his personal code, Diena reported.

Despite the ludicrousness of the situation, the Prosecutor's Office has launched a criminal probe against Lembergs for failing to comply with the government's decision. Prosecutors explained that the investigation, which will be conducted by the anti-corruption bureau, a subordinate to the Cabinet of Ministers, will seek to determine if the crime caused serious consequences and was committed with a purpose to gain profit.

Lembergs responded to news of the investigation by claiming that law enforcement agencies were out to get him.

"I have received information that a meeting of top state officials has taken place at the Prosecutor General's Office, in which they discussed steps to block Lembergs' further political activities - especially to prevent him from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections," Lembergs told the Latvijas Avize daily.

He added that the case was politically motivated. "If we know this fact and remember the criminal procedure that [the anti-corruption bureau] started against [former Defense Minister] Einars Repse 's that is, the necessity to divert attention from Repse's case 's then the prosecutor's seemingly strange activities become clear. These are steps against one of Repse's possible main rivals in the next elections," Lembergs said.

Repse is leader of New Era.

The mayor of Ventspils said law enforcement agencies had violated his rights. "Of course, I haven't got a recording of this meeting, but the information I have is credible enough," he said.

But the Grinbergs farce has yet to see its conclusion.