Lembergs released from house arrest

  • 2008-02-27
  • From staff and wire reports
RIGA - Almost a year after his arrest warrant was issued and he was detained on the Riga-Ventspils highway, Aivars Lembergs has been freed from house arrest. The move came as the intense investigation into the Ventspils mayor's allegedly corrupt practices enters its final stages.
Kurzeme Regional Court Judge Vineta Vaiteika agreed to release Lembergs from house arrest on Feb. 22 despite prosecutors' pleas to maintain the status quo.
"The Kurzeme Regional Court considered the request to keep Lembergs under house arrest to be ungrounded." said Aivo Leimanis, one of Lembergs' foremost lawyers, in an interview with the Baltic News Service.

The court, however, imposed a long list of strict restrictions on the suspended mayor. In fact, his freedom comes with so many conditions that it reportedly took the court nearly an hour and a half just to read the list.
Representatives of the prosecutor's office said most of the restrictions involve who the suspended mayor is allowed to see and where he is allowed to go.
"There are a lot of them [restrictions]… it is forbidden for him to leave Latvia without permission, or to be closer than 30 meters from certain people. He is not allowed to use any means to contact them, or send any information to 15 of the people involved in the investigation," a representative of the prosecutor's office said. 
She said there were also restrictions as to where he could go within Latvia, she said.
After the hearing, Lembergs was met with large crowds of cheering supporters.
Lembergs, a member of the Greens and Farmers Union and former candidate for prime minister, was initially arrested on March 14 last year and charged with a plethora of violations. Some of the charges leveled against him include bribery, large scale abuse of power, money laundering and providing false information on his income statements.

He vigorously denies all the allegations and said the entire case against him is groundless and motivated in politics.
The numerous restrictions are considered extremely strict by both the prosecutors and the defense 's the level of restrictions amount to only a small change over house arrest.  Prosecutor Juris Juriss has repeatedly said in interviews with local media that he thought the restrictions were even more severe than house arrest had been.
Lembergs himself, in one of his first statements to the press after his release, commented on the severity of the restrictions.
"The regimen does not change, except for the absence of policemen," he said.
Nonetheless, the defense team is trumpeting the ruling as a success and a sign that prosecutors are on the run.

"The Prosecutor's Office was unable to provide facts allowing for the continued application of house arrest to Lembergs," Leimanis said.
Prosecutors fear that a free Lembergs will be able to meddle in the investigation, which is complex as it involves dozens of companies and individuals, some of whom are likely to be influential politicians. 
Prosecutors are still confident in their ability to successfully close the case against Lembergs. It is in the final stages of interviewing witnesses, and will be prepared to present the case after resolving a few more "technical" issues.
"The investigation is very active and is now in the final phase. The main task now is to work to be able to send the case to the court 's the investigation is in the last phase, and there are both final technical and procedural things left to do," the prosecutor's office said.

Lembergs has consistently denied all of the accusations leveled against him, calling the charges "politically motivated." He has accused a number of different rival politicians of helping orchestrate the affair.
Though Lembergs is still technically the mayor of Ventspils, he has been temporarily suspended from his duties for the course of the investigation. In a Feb. 25 interview on state radio, President Valdis Zatlers said the situation whereby Lembergs still holds the mayoral post is "abnormal," noting that the mayor has not been able to fulfill his duties for some time.
The suspended mayor has been under house arrest since July 2007, and has lost numerous appeals for a change in his detention status. He even went on a short-lived hunger strike earlier this year to protest alleged violations of his human rights while under house arrest.

A ruling on his case against the police over human rights violations was due to be released shortly after The Baltic Times went to press. The pre-trial investigation into the wider corruption case, meanwhile, will last until April 20.