RIGA - In what seems like a page torn out of a Charles Dickens novel, Children's Clinical University Hospital administrative manager Aivars Lisenko and board member and procurement committee member Arnis Kramzaks were arrested on Nov. 3 on charges of misuse of power, taking and giving bribes, document forgery and fraud in connection with a construction contract with the state-owned children's hospital.
Two other suspected swindlers are Raitis Murnieks, Projektu vadibas un attistibas birojs (PVAB) representative, and Pamats board member Aleksandrs Kreicers, reports news agency LETA.
The Corruption Prevention Bureau (CPB), which is investigating the case, reports that 700,000 lats (1 million euros) in cash was seized from the suspects' workplaces and residences, 500,000 lats of this amount were found with Lisenko. The origin of the money has not yet been determined.
Lisenko is linked to People's Party's founder and former Prime Minister Andris Skele.
The investigation centers on a construction project at the hospital which ran from 2007 's 2009. The criminal case by the CPB was opened Oct. 22.
Murnieks is facing fraud charges. PVAB was hired to consult the hospital's procurement committee; Murnieks consulted the committee, supervised construction of the hospital's new multifunctional premises and the renovation of the hospital's reception area.
Pamats won the tender for carrying out the two projects. The CPB says that Pamats possibly paid bribes to win the construction tender, worth over 370,000 lats.
Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (New Era) has reacted by signing a decree ordering Health Minister Baiba Rozentale (People's Party) to immediately organize a hospital shareholders' meeting to consider dismissing the hospital's board.
"At a time when active debate is underway between the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry over hospitals' options to repay state-subsidized loans, scandals where hundreds of thousands of lats are at stake demand the respective officials to take responsibility and to provide the public with full information on the activities," says Dombrovskis.
He adds that "The suspected violations at the Children's Hospital are especially alarming because thousands of people have donated money to the hospital to help improve the conditions for children who receive treatment there."
Currently the hospital's board includes two members - chairman Dzintars Mozgis and Egils Lavendelis. Neither is suspected of any wrongdoing. Arbor Medical has been for several years winning equipment procurement tenders, for Vidzeme Hospital, Children's Hospital, Pauls Stradins Clinical University Hospital and Eastern Hospital. The largest shareholder at Arbor Medical is Dace Ratfelde, chairman Mozgis' wife.
Lisenko reportedly donated 9,000 lats in 2006 to the People's Party, while he was a member. His income declaration for 2008 showed savings of 244,000 lats, in addition to a Suisse Credit Bank account holding 198,000 U.S. dollars.