RIGA - A Riga court has again denied Aivars Lembergs a request to post bail, the third such refusal for the notorious Ventspils mayor. Prosecutors convincingly argued before the Riga Central District Court that a free Lembergs would hamper investigators' efforts in what has quickly become one of the most important cases in Latvia's post-independence history.
Lembergs stands charged with large scale bribery, money laundering, blackmail, and abuse of authority. He has already spent two months in detention at Matisa Prison in Riga.
The most recent ruling, much like the previous bail hearings, was announced by the Riga Central District court after hours of deliberation and debate.
In the previous hearings, Lembergs had offered as much as 300,000 lats (425,000 euros) in bail. This time Lembergs more than tripled his offer, with lawyers offering to post a bail of 1 million lats.
Guntars Antoms, one of Lembergs' lawyers, explained that Lembergs would not necessarily have covered the amount himself. "There are people, companies and businessmen ready to pay it," Antoms said.
In addition to the enormous sum of money, a number of prominent Latvian citizens have offered stand bond for Lembergs.
Prosecutor Krisjanis Rudzitis argued, however, that a house arrest would be insufficient in Lembergs' case, as the influential Ventspils mayor, who also leads the Greens and Farmers Union in Parliament, would still be able to hamper the case if freed. Lembergs is being accused of bribery, extortion, money laundering and falsifying income statements.
Lembergs, who is still nominally mayor of Latvia's leading port city, has repeatedly denied the allegations brought against him, contending that they are politically motivated.
The drama of the case surrounding Lembergs has had extensive repercussions. His arrest was widely seen as the first step in a war against the so-called "oligarchs" in Latvia's business and politics. The other two reputed "oligarchs," Andris Skele and Ainars Slesers, have also recently found themselves faced with legal problems.
Rudzitis declined to make any forecasts as to how long the Ventspils mayor might be kept in custody. He pointed out that circumstances behind Lembergs' detention had not changed.
Aivo Leimanis, another lawyer of Lembergs, said the ruling for now could no longer be appealed, but that after a two-month detention the measure of restraint could be revised at the judge's initiative.
Lembergs was detained on March 14 on his way from Ventspils to Riga, reportedly traveling to a court hearing. On March 27 a judge of the Riga Center District Court ruled to keep him in jail.
The mayor's lawyers then filed their first request for bail but were denied in an April 23 Riga Regional Court ruling.
The charges leveled against Lembergs have also affected other prominent Ventspils figures. Mamerts Vaivads, the former council chairman of Latvia's Ventspils Nafta multi-business group, and Krists Skuja, council chairman of Ventamonjaks chemicals and oil products terminal, are among suspects in the corruption and money-laundering case.
Other suspects implicated in the case include Laimonis Junkers, former council chairman of Latvijas Naftas Tranzits, a key shareholder in Ventspils Nafta, as well as Ansis Sormulis, a council member of the Ventbunkers stevedore company.