'We are not crooks'

  • 2008-09-10
  • By Monika Hanley

TWIDDLE DEE AND TWIDDLE DUM: Latvian City of Ventspils Mayor and Estonian's former Environmantal Minister both profess their innocence as accusations againt them mount.

RIGA - Besieged Ventpils mayor Aivars Lembergs has raised his compensation demands to one million lats despite the Justice Ministry's inability to pay his much smaller initial request.
Not satisfied with his triumphant acquittal and the Justice Ministry's decision to partially compensate him for damages, Lembergs on Sept. 8 formally submitted an appeal demanding nearly ten times the sum he first requested. Lembergs' attorney, Armands Sumanis, explained that the revised sum included compensation for "unjustified actions" on the part of the prosecutor's office.

This causes even more grief for the Justice Ministry, whose lack of funds had rendered them unable to pay even the initial 104,450-lat (150,258-euro) sum.
Lembergs said he was "forced to come to the conclusion" that the charges against him were unjustified, Justice Ministry public relations director Jana Saulite said.
The Justice Ministry has spent its budget money and will not be able to repay Lembergs for all the costs incurred in the course of his court proceedings.

Even before Lembergs upped his request, Saulite had said that the ministry was unable to pay even the lesser compensation amount and was applying for government aid. "At the moment the compensation money is not available, and we are appealing to the government for more money to cover this compensation," Saulite had said.

The whole situation has many Latvian citizens quite upset. Andris B., a businessman working in the IT sector, said: "Our court system is completely powerless against all these Lembergs, Slesers and Skeles. They can get through anything with the help of their fancy lawyers and helpers. Sure, right now Lembergs may be having a hard time, but I'm sure he'll come out better in the end."

Andris added that in Latvia, people are apolitical: "They don't care who's in charge and how they got there."
Lembergs was accused of abuse of power by failing to carry out a government order in 2005 to give the New Era party's Ojars Grinbergs a seat on Ventspils Freeport's board.
Though found not guilty in the Grinbergs affair, the mayor will still stand trial for an extensive litany of serious charges, including accepting a series of bribes worth 239,670 lats in connection with extortion. He has also been charged with laundering nearly 5 million lats in an organized group and drafting false documents.

Some of the other charges leveled against him include conflict of interest, providing false information to government authorities and abuse of power in conducting real estate deals for personal gain.
The materials submitted to the court surrounding the case amount to 101 volumes.
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.

Lembergs is still barred from resuming his duties as mayor of Ventspils. He has been kept under house arrest since July 2007, though an earlier victory for his legal team allowed him to change the place of his incarceration from his Ventspils flat to his spacious country house.

Lembergs was detained on March 14, 2007. On Aug. 20, his case was handed over to the Kurzeme Regional Court for a hearing.