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ON THE PAYROLL: Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs stands accused of paying off politicians to buy votes and influence.
RIGA - Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs (For Latvia and Ventspils) paid out at least 7 million dollars’ (4.7 million euros) worth of illegal payments to his so-called ‘beneficiaries’ from 2001 to 2006, writes daily Diena, reports news agency LETA. This new information sheds additional light on a large illegal payment scheme carried on by the ‘mayor by the sea.’ It appears that from 2004 to 2006, 4.2 million dollars was paid out by foundations controlled by Lembergs. Most of these payments were made to political parties and people associated with these parties.
The payments were made on a regular basis, almost like paying out monthly wages. Included on the socalled ‘beneficiaries’ list, in which some names are written in code, are possibly parties and persons still in power in Latvia today. It has been for some time rumored that a ‘list’ exists, of reported payoffs made for years by the mayor. The existence of this list became clearer last week when Prosecutor General Janis Maizitis on Latvian Radio said that prosecutors on the case are “confident the list is real.” Lembergs is being charged with serious criminal offenses. “I can reveal the fact that we have confiscated lists with clear financial information from businessmen in Ventspils,” proclaimed Maizitis.
The prosecutor general’s office says there are some persons on the list who have clearly received money. “There are things on the list that are in code. There are separate agreements as well,” said Maizitis. The Prosecutor’s Office says that it knows who has received money from Lembergs; the office also knows the identity of the persons who gave this money. However, those suspected in the case have denied their involvement and are not cooperating with investigators, say officials. Maizitis notes that these “coded” nicknames of persons involved hinder the investigation.
He says that approximately 60 politicians and well-known figures have been questioned in the case, however, they have signed an agreement not to make any information public, as the Prosecutor’s Office is also not allowed to release any information at this time as well. When these persons involved are ready to cooperate, Maizitis promised to be “obliging to them.” He also emphasized that if laws were passed by deputies who received bribes to vote a certain way, testimonies will be needed. “If a bribe was given to achieve a certain parliamentary vote, such things cannot take place in a democratic country,” Maizitis announced, pointing out, however, that investigators must prove that such bribes were given. Lembergs on Dec. 4 requested Maizitis to officially confirm the existence of the list, countering that such a list would mean that “I have given bribes to specific officials to make a specific decision in my interests.
At the same time, I ask the Prosecutor’s Office whether a criminal process and investigation, called ‘Lembergs’ beneficiaries affair,’ has been started.” TV3’s broadcast of the show ‘Nothing Personal’ earlier disclosed a possible list of the beneficiaries. In documents related to his beneficiaries, or ‘grants’ list, it seems that political parties have received large financial support, in the hundreds of thousands of lats. The beneficiary list includes members of political parties Latvia’s Way and New Era, along with other politicians. According to the documents, Latvian Social Democratic Party and Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party received nearly 500,000 dollars. Several Saeima deputies have been questioned in the case. Lembergs keeps a tight grip on activities in the Ventspils region. He was re-elected as town mayor at the first meeting of the new Ventspils City Council on July 1. Despite the continuing accusations swirling, Lembergs remains the most popular politician in Ventspils.