Lembergs release draws fire

  • 2007-07-18
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

LAST LAUGH: Prosecutors complained that Lembergs was left unsupervised for the first two days of his house arrest, during which he could have been using his political influence to hamper the investigation.

RIGA - Prosecutors and law enforcement officials have criticized the release of embattled Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs from prison, with fears his increased freedom could impede investigations into his affairs.
Lembergs, who has been in jail since March, was released because of health concerns following a court hearing on July 10. He was placed under house arrest, where he will await trial for charges of bribery, money laundering and tax violations.
"My rights to receive medical treatment were infringed as in prison there were no technical means to enable the treatment. There was only a cell and a space of three to four meters for walking," Lembergs told journalists.

Lembergs checked into Riga Pauls Stradins Clinical University Hospital on July 17 where he had a cardiac procedure performed. He is expected to remain in the hospital for two to three days.
It wasn't the veracity of Lembergs' health claims that prosecutors questioned, however, but how the release was handled.
In five previous hearings, prosecutors had successfully argued that a free Lembergs would use his political influence to impede, even obstruct, their ongoing investigation.
"It will not be easy to control the behavior of this individual during house arrest," prosecutor Krisjanis Rudzitis said during the court session.

Under the terms of his house arrest Lembergs, who was the prime ministerial candidate for the Greens and Farmers Union in last October's general election, is under constant supervision. He is not only prohibited from leaving his home but also from contacting and communicating with people other than his legal representative.
However the Riga Regional Court failed to release the details of the case until July 12, giving the leader of the Greens and Farmers Union, a ruling coalition party, two full days of unsupervised freedom.
The judge's decision to release the mayor before imposing restrictions on him has raised questions about her motives, prompting rector of the Latvian Police Academy Arija Meikalisa to openly criticize her.

Meikalisa noted that Riga Regional Court judge Tamara Broda should not have allowed Lembergs to be released without informing him of the restrictions he would be required to observe, the daily Diena reported.
Analysts said the court's decision was justifiable, but that its implementation was mishandled.
"The move to put him under home arrest I think it is reasonable, but then at least it must be done in the proper way so that he is really not accessible by his party's members and friends. This was not the case and for two days he was left totally unattended," Veiko Stolitis, political scientist at Riga Stradins University, told The Baltic Times.
The judge had denied Lembergs' previous five requests for bail on the grounds that the mayor, considered to be one of the country's so-called "oligarchs," could possibly use his extensive influence to sway the course of theprosecutors' investigation, which is still continuing.
Fifteen lawmakers, both past and current, have been questioned in connection with the Lembergs bribery case.

Despite his nearly four months in prison, Lembergs enigmatically remains Ventspils mayor. He said that he believes he is still able to perform his duties as town chief without breaking the law and will appeal to the judge for lighter restrictions to his house arrest so that he may work.
"I want to work!" he told journalists after the court decided to free him.
The prosecutor's office insists that they maintain the right to take Lembergs back into custody pending further developments in the case. "If there is new action directed toward interfering with the investigation, like breach of the arrest or additional charges… These are circumstances that may lead to a new detention," the prosecutor said.

Lembergs has stated that he intends to apply to the European Court of Human Rights over alleged violations of his rights to freedom and security. He has repeatedly denied the allegations brought against him, contending that they are politically motivated.
Lembergs was arrested on the highway between Ventspils and Riga on March 14 while traveling to a court hearing and was ordered into custody. He has since then lost appeals hearings and repeatedly been denied bail.
Lembergs' arrest was widely interpreted by the media as the start of a war against Latvia's so-called oligarchs 's one that could draw numerous politicians into the scandal. There were even fears that if enough lawmakers were drawn in, Parliament would have to be dissolved.