RIGA - The Latvian Supreme Court Senate has begun proceedings on Russian exile Boris Berezovsky's appeal over his blacklisting from Latvia, after the case was postponed on April 21. The original court hearing was cancelled when confidential documents were introduced into the proceedings. Berezovsky's lawyer, Lauris Liepa, had been granted Category 2 clearance for access to state secrets only a few hours before the case was set to begin.
But since he needed time to examine the evidence, the hearing was postponed. The judges and court secretary were also granted security clearance.
Before the hearing was cut short, Latvia's former interior minister Eriks Jekabsons testified to the court.
Earlier that morning, the former interior minister told reporters that Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis had, on several occasions, described Berezovsky as "undesirable in Latvia," even before the man was listed as persona non grata.
Jekabsons added that Berezovsky was not extradited to Russia because of the Prosecutor General Office's decision, which only "determined that the man was not a threat to national security." Rather, the former interior minister said Kalvitis was pressured into the decision.
"If the PM accuses the interior minister of treason and the mass media jumps on it, but then it later turns out to be nothing but lies, can it not be construed as pressure?" Jekabsons asked.
According to Liepa, before the National Security Council meeting last October, which was followed by the motion to blacklist Berezovsky, Jekabsons said he did not have any information about the Russian posing a threat to national security.
Yet the final decision was officially based on security agency recommendations.
Liepa argued that, because the state's order to blacklist Berezovsky did not reference any specific reasons, this suggests that it was based on political speculation only. In such a case, the decision should have come from the foreign minister, who has the right to declare people personas non grata based on internal or foreign policy considerations.
In October 2005, the National Security Council recommended the interior minister to include Berezovsky on a list of undesirable foreigners. Just hours after the meeting, Jekabsons resigned, asserting that the decision had nothing to do with Berezovsky.
Therefore, the decree declaring Berezovsky persona non grata in Latvia was signed by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis who temporarily took over for Jekobsons as acting interior minister.
Berezovsky earlier claimed that Latvia was influenced by pressure from Russia, where he is wanted for tax fraud and deals linked with U.S. businessman and philanthropist George Soros.