Lembergs the leading man no longer a support act

  • 2008-04-28
  • By Mike Collier

BRACE YOURSELF: Lembergs believes himself to be a victim, not a criminal (Photo: Mike Collier)

RIGA 's Aivars Lembergs, one of Latvia's cadre of high-profilebusinessmen-cum-politicians, took center stage to deliver an hour-long rebuketo the press, April 28.

Portrayinghimself as the victim of unethical journalists engaged in a disinformationcampaign against him, Lembergs insisted that media outlets had consistentlyrefused to give his side of the story in reporting his long-running trial andrelated matters.

Lembergs, who has close ties with the Greens and Farmers Union political party, currently facesa sizeable array of charges including bribery, money laundering and taxevasion. He is also a long-time mayor of the port city of Ventspils.

WhenLembergs arrived at his press conference in blue pinstripe suit and red tie, healso sported the neck brace that he habitually wears at his court appearance.However, by the time he had made his way from the rear of the room to thefront, he had removed the medical support and conducted the remainder of the pressconference without suffering obvious discomfort, though it remained on displayon the table beside him. He did remind reporters that he still needed to makefrequent visits to his physician.

Frequentlyreferring to himself in the third person and making liberal use of rhetoricalquestions throughout, Lembergs portrayed himself as a man of the people notprepared to have his rights violated by state employees and a biased media elite.

Hiscounter-blast came within hours of press reports that Aleksejs Loskutovs,head of the Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), had asked the ProsectorGeneral's Office to look into remarks Lembergs is alleged to make about him ina forthcoming interview with the men's magazine Klubs.

Loskutovs intimated that he may seek to take Lembergs to court if theremarks do transpire to be defamatory. Lembergs batted away questions about hisKlubs interview by telling journalists to read the interview for themselves. A reference he makes to "Alyosha" [the familiarRussian form of 'Aleksejs'] in the interview could be taken to mean any one of numerousAlyoshas in the country, Lembergs claimed.

Loskutovs isn't the only person threatening legal action. Part of Lembergs'lengthy tirade focussed on a threat to take the Latvian state to the EuropeanCourt of Human Rights over the circumstances of his arrest, a subsequent periodof house arrest and the conduct of his trial, which he described as an"absolutely abnormal situation." He said he would consider seeking compensationfor false imprisonment and the distress the case had caused him.

Earlier Lembergs questioned whether the use of state funds to prosecute himwas in the public interest.

He also spoke in defence of Ina Gudele, the Minister for E-governance, who resigned last week when it emerged that her ministryhad spent 800 lats of public money on her birthday party. Lembergs questionedwhy the affair had made major headlines and sparked widespread condemnation,suggesting that had Gudele simply awarded herself a bonus of similarproportions, no-one would have taken any notice.