RIGA - Raimonds Munkevics, the recently ousted mayor of Latvia’s resort town Jurmala, was arrested on May 18 on suspicion of offering a bribe of 5,000 lats (7,100 euros) to one of the council members. Two days after his dismissal he was replaced by Romualds Razuks, a Lithuanian and a veteran of local politics. Munkevics is already the fourth mayor of Jurmala who has sparked the interest of law-enforcement authorities.
The glamorous resort town of Jurmala is famous for its golden beach, hotels and restaurants, as well as for its highly corrupt politicians. In the beginning of May, the City Council’s opposition managed to get the support of eight out of 15 members to dismiss Munkevics. Before the voting, he allegedly tried to swing the opposition by offering 5,000 lats to two council members. Both of them refused the bribe, and one of the two informed the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. All deputies, except for Iveta Blaua, denied they were offered money for a favorable vote.
“There will be no comments until the investigation is over,” said Blaua.
The other council opposition member, Marija Vorobjova, said she was offered a bribe in the same amount too, but did not go to the police because of lack of evidence. She was also threatened by Munkevics.
“I am also a member of the board of the concert hall Dzintari, and Munkevics pushed me to sign an agreement with a company called Priority, although their prices were too high. He even planned to remove me from the post in order to lobby through this company. He always acted in such manner and that is why we planned to dismiss him,” said Vorobjova.
Before putting Munkevics under arrest, police made six searches, including Jurmala’s council and several of the mayor’s apartments. Five more people were arrested on suspicion of participation in a crime. Munkevics’ attorney, Aivo Leimanis, said his client was innocent. If he fails to prove it, Munkevics can get a term of three to eight years in prison, with confiscation of property.
“There is no trustworthy and undeniable evidence to confirm that my client could be involved in illegal activities. He denies all.”
Romualds Razuks, Jurmala’s new mayor, a neurosurgeon by profession, promised to restore the reputation of the council and work for the good of the local people and businesses. “I was the parliament’s speaker and headed Latvian People’s Front, when Latvia restored its independence. I have good experience in politics and I will work honestly and transparently. I could run for parliament in October, but as a resident of Jurmala, I just could not look any more on what is happening in my town.”
This is already the fourth criminal procedure involving a mayor of Jurmala. Andrejs Inkulis, who held the position from 1994 to 1997, is now accused of bribery in Riga City Council. Munkevics’ predecessor, Girts Trencis, was sentenced to 200 hours of compulsory labor for abuse of an official position. Probably, the most notorious Mayor is Juris Hlevickis, who is now serving time after the famous corruption scandal “Jurmala gate,” involving Ainars Slesers, then transport minister, and then Prime Minister Andris Skele. Hlevickis received a five year sentence, but Slesers – currently Riga vice-mayor, is now running with Skele for the national elections later this year. Munkevics, already with a black eye from previous suspicions of illegal activities, held the Jurmala mayor’s post from 2006 – 2008. Some months before his election, he was dismissed from the city’s real estate company Jurmalas namsaimnieks, where he was chairman of the board – the then Mayor Inese Aizstrauta suspected him of several violations.
Politicians will never stop fighting for Jurmala because of its expensive land and difficulties to get a building permit, said Pauls Raudseps, political analyst and a council member of Delna, Latvia’s local Transparency International branch.
“There are only 15 members in the City Council and almost every one of them represents a different party. Meanwhile, every political party in Latvia has its own donors, financial interests and obligations. So, almost every Jurmala deputy always tries to push through his or her interests in order to let somebody buy land or get building permits.”
Jurmala’s biggest problem is the vast disproportion of the giant money turnover relative to the tiny size of the town, and this is why the battle for power will never end there, said Raudseps.